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Oregon lawmakers press for disaster-funding reversal

Trump administration denied earlier request

WASHINGTON - Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, joined by Reps. Peter DeFazio (OR-4), Earl Blumenauer (OR-3), Greg Walden (OR-2), Kurt Schrader (OR-5) and Suzanne Bonamici (OR-1), pressed Monday for a reversal of the Trump administration’s previous decision denying federal disaster relief to Oregon communities following severe winter storms.

In a letter to President Trump, the lawmakers added their support to Governor Kate Brown’s appeal of the decision, pointing out that “our state’s rural communities lost critical facility, school, and shelter space that is extremely expensive to replace, and is essential to the recovery of impacted communities.”

From January 7-20, communities across the state experienced high winds, heavy snowfall, ice accumulation, extreme rainfall, flooding and extended freezing temperatures. In many places, the continuous ice rain and low temperatures created extremely heavy ice sheets that compromised or collapsed roofs.

Despite the severe damages, FEMA and the Trump administration denied the state’s initial request for a disaster declaration for Baker, Columbia, Curry, Deschutes, Hood River, Josephine, Malheur, Multnomah, Washington, and Union counties. The governor’s appeal revealed new damages, they said, and also requested assistance for Clackamas, Jefferson and Wasco counties.

Noting how communities were overwhelmed by these severe storms and the damage that ensued, the senators and representatives wrote, “We believe that Oregon’s appeal demonstrates that the unusual and extended nature of the weather events, per-capita impact, and overall damage overwhelmed the impacted Oregon counties.

“On behalf of the individuals and communities that are still struggling to recover, we ask that you approve Governor Brown’s appeal, and immediately grant a major disaster declaration under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act,” they concluded.

The full text of the letter follows below.

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June 19, 2017

Dear President Trump:

We write to you in support of Oregon Governor Kate Brown’s appeal and request for a major disaster declaration under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, due to severe winter storms spanning 14 counties in the State of Oregon and resulting in over $14 million in damages.

We believe that Oregon’s appeal demonstrates that the damage caused by high winds, heavy snowfall, ice accumulation, extreme rainfall, flooding and extended freezing temperatures from January 7-20, 2017, exceeded the capabilities of the state and affected local governments to respond and recover. For example, our state’s rural communities lost critical facility, school, and shelter space that is extremely expensive to replace, and is essential to the recovery of impacted communities. While normal “dry” snowfall —where every foot weighs only three pounds per square foot —would not threaten structures, the continuous ice rain and low temperatures contributed to heavy ice sheets —where every foot can weigh up to 57 pounds per square foot. The prevalence of these thick ice sheets either compromised or collapsed many roofs, and severely inhibited emergency response. The Bend School District alone reported $8.5 million in roof damages across 123 buildings.

Although Oregon’s March 9, 2017, request for a major disaster declaration was initially denied, the state has since provided clarity and additional materials to verify that the extreme and unusual winter weather and resulting damages meet the threshold for a major disaster declaration. This information includes new data on damages occurring since the initial request was filed; additional weather data explaining the storm’s interaction with Oregon’s unique geographical features; and an updated damage assessment to comply with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s snowstorm policy clarification issued on April 17, 2017.

We believe that Oregon’s appeal demonstrates that the unusual and extended nature of the weather events, per-capita impact, and overall damage overwhelmed the impacted Oregon counties: Baker, Columbia, Curry, Deschutes, Hood River, Josephine, Malheur, Multnomah, Union, Washington, Clackamas, Jefferson, and Wasco. On behalf of the individuals and communities that are still struggling to recover, we ask that you approve Governor Brown’s appeal, and immediately grant a major disaster declaration under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. Our offices stand ready to assist in any way to support Oregonians. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

CC: Mr. Robert Fenton, Acting Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency


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