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Oregon Governor sends letter to President Biden seeking access to FEMA resources for storm recovery efforts

Oregon – In a move aimed at accelerating recovery efforts from the January weather emergency, Governor Tina Kotek of Oregon has formally requested a federal major disaster declaration from President Biden. This request, made on behalf of both the State of Oregon and the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Indians, underscores the significant challenges faced by these communities in the wake of a severe winter storm that left lasting impacts across multiple counties.

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A Call for Federal Assistance

Governor Kotek’s letter to the President outlines the dire need for federal intervention to assist with the recovery process, highlighting the extensive damage to public infrastructure and property. “I am asking President Biden and the federal government to provide relief to Oregon communities and the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Indians that have been grappling with short and long-term impacts of the January winter storm. Many are still struggling to recover from severe damage to public infrastructure and property as a result of the storm, and I am resolved to ensure that Oregon can access FEMA resources that exist for this very purpose,” Governor Kotek wrote.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Public Assistance Program, if the request is approved, would offer supplemental grants to state, tribal, local governments, and certain private nonprofits. These grants are intended to cover costs incurred while responding to and recovering from the emergency, providing a much-needed financial lifeline to those impacted.

In the aftermath of the storm, Governor Kotek declared a state of emergency, setting in motion a coordinated response effort involving the Oregon Department of Emergency Management (OEM) and affected counties. This collaboration has been instrumental in assessing the damages and identifying potential resources to aid in the recovery process. The request for a federal disaster declaration represents a critical step forward in these efforts.

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The Toll of the Storm

The January storm had far-reaching consequences, affecting Benton, Clackamas, Coos, Hood River, Lane, Lincoln, Linn, Multnomah, Sherman, Tillamook, and Wasco Counties, as well as the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians. The destruction included downed trees and limbs that damaged or destroyed utility infrastructure, leading to widespread power, communication, and internet outages. The storm’s impact was not just limited to infrastructure damage but also had a significant human cost, with seventeen Oregonians losing their lives.

At the height of the crisis, over 238,900 residents were left without power, with some areas remaining in the dark for more than two weeks. The storm also inflicted a heavy financial toll on the local economy, particularly affecting small businesses. A reported 1,355 small businesses suffered substantial economic losses, amounting to an estimated total of $165,331,014. This financial blow was attributed to lost wages, revenue declines, and the overall disruption to normal business operations and customer access due to the icy conditions.

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The U.S. Small Business Administration has stepped in to offer low-interest federal disaster loans to businesses impacted by the storm, with an application deadline set for November 8th. Meanwhile, the preliminary Public Assistance Damage Assessment across all affected communities totals $48,485,115, illustrating the scale of the financial challenge ahead.

Governor Kotek’s request for a federal major disaster declaration is now pending, with a typical response time from the federal government of about six weeks. If approved, this declaration would mark a significant milestone in Oregon’s path to recovery, bringing essential federal resources to bear in addressing the extensive damage and loss experienced by the state and its residents.

Gideon Fairchild


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