Douglas County Navigating FEMA Emergency Funding Application Process While Preparing For Spring Flooding

Posted By on April 14, 2017

by Joey Crandall, joey@carsonvalleytimes.com · 10 min read

MINDEN, Nev. — Local and regional emergency management officials are performing a complex balancing act as they prepare for potential flooding later this spring while addressing the damage caused flooding events earlier this year.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency issued separate disaster declarations for the January and February floods in Carson Valley – as well as the greater Northern Nevada region — making emergency funds available to repair and/or replace damaged infrastructure, to help agencies recoup funds spent on emergency response and to assist with hazard mitigation for future events.

Douglas County is in the middle of the application process for emergency funding for the January event and just starting the process for the February event.

“We’re hoping that we will be successful in our efforts and be able to immediately start the work,” Douglas County Interim Manager Larry Werner said. “Both FEMA and the Nevada Division of Emergency Management have been extremely cooperative in walking us through this fairly complicated process.”

Indeed, the arrival of FEMA representatives in the region doesn’t equate to a federally-funded ATM machine.

“That’s probably the most common misconception we run into: people hear that FEMA is here and think that there will be supply of direct monetary relief for private property damages,” East Fork Fire Protection District Chief Tod Carlini, who also heads Douglas County Emergency Management, said. “It’s not like that. Douglas County didn’t reach the threshold for private property damage in either event.

“For these events, they are covering public infrastructure only and replacement compensation is provided at 75 percent. It’s not for private assistance. The private damages just didn’t meet the criteria during these events.”

Photo by Hannah Potts. Flooding of the Carson River below Sunridge in February.

While FEMA does provide assistance for private property damages if certain thresholds are met — which they weren’t — the bulk of that assistance is in the form of low interest rate loans.

“For local governments, it’s not a simple claim form that you just send in,” Carlini said. “For each issue, or cluster of issues you want to try to address, it’s about equivalent to completing the information you would associate with writing a grant application. You have to provide financial records, cost analysis, labor reports, contractor’s estimates, and so on. It’s very specific. With repairs, they want to know square footages, cubic feet for debris removal, miles of roadway damages, etc. It can become a very involved process.

“On the positive side, FEMA is here and has been very helpful. The majority of FEMA personnel are well versed in the program and are seasoned veterans of large scale national disasters, such as Katrina.”

Carlini said applications must fall into one of six possible categories: protective measures, public utilities, debris removal, parks & recreation, roads and bridges.

“Everything starts local,” said FEMA external affairs officer Kim Burgess. “After incidents like this, there will typically be local damage assessments. If there is enough damage, typically they’ll ask for the state to participate in the damage assessment and then it moves to a preliminary damage assessment with FEMA.”

Once damage assessments are completed, Burgess said states typically host an applicant briefing during which all applicants from local jurisdictions are walked through the public assistance process.

An application deadline is then set, generally 30 days from the date of the federal emergency declaration.

Once eligible applicants have been identified, FEMA representatives set up one-on-one meetings with each applicant to go over each project and the potential reimbursement, Burgess said.

Carlini has been heading up the filing of East Fork Fire applications from the January storm and coordinating the effort of other agency claims efforts.

East Fork Deputy Chief Dave Fogerson is heading up the applications for the February event.

“It’s time consuming and it takes a lot of effort, a lot of organization throughout. Documentation is absolutely critical,” Carlini said. “We’re about midway through the process with the January event. ”

Carlini said the district has been maintaining “doc boxes” — cardboard boxes into which go copies of all documents pertaining to a particular event.

“It’s pretty low tech,” Carlini said. “When we have an event and we activate the Emergency Operations Center, we start a doc box and anything generated during the course of that event goes into the box. We keep track of everything. The most important documents at this point are those of a financial nature.”

County staff spent considerable time compiling documents for the boxes, according to Werner.

“Staff, particularly in finance, public works and community development, have been working feverishly to provide documentation to FEMA and the State Department of Emergency of Management to put the County in the best possible position to obtain funding to repair damage caused by the series of storms we had this winter,” Werner said.

Carlini noted that the information collected in the January event generated a file 6 inches thick, which doesn’t include the work that the Douglas County departments generated.

Much of what the Fire District is attempting to recoup from the January and February floods relates to the cost of the emergency response, or what FEMA defines protective measures.

Douglas County’s efforts will include protective measures as well, but will be more focused on repair costs to public infrastructure.

Last week, Douglas County commissioners declared a State of Emergency in preparation for potential flooding in the coming months due to spring snowmelt runoff or further major storm events. The declaration has been forwarded to the state.

A third doc box has already been started.

“With that, anything done now as a protective or mitigation measure can be subject to possible reimbursement if a Presidential Declaration is warranted,” Carlini said.

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval announced Thursday that state officials expect Northern Nevada’s flood season to run between 90 to 120 days starting in May or June. According to the Reno Gazette-Journal, officials estimate that 239 billion gallons of water will come down the Carson River by July — a volume which could cause renewed flooding over Highway 395 near Cradlebaugh Bridge between Carson City and Minden.

In preparation, county officials are asking for assistance with a variety of mitigation projects with the hopes of minimizing the impact of the anticipated flooding.

Among the proposed projects are:

  • River bank stabilization and debris removal – particularly near Aspen Mobile Home Park in Gardnerville and near where 395 was closed between Minden and Carson City.
  • Removal of vegetation impeding flows through the bypass underflow north of the Highway 395 bridges.
  • Identifying and providing bank stabilization and repair in areas which allowed flood waters to escape the prescribed waterway resulting in the closure of 395 in Northern Douglas County.
  • Evaluating potential snow melt originating in the Hope Valley area of Alpine County California and feeding the West Fork of the Carson River.
  • River debris, sand, gravel bar and sediment removal on the Carson River in areas where significant deposition occurred during the earlier flooding events.
  • Assisting the local agricultural community to facilitate their efforts to repair diversion structures and other such structures ahead of irrigation season.

“A lot of damage has been done is to the river,” Carlini said. “The floods have impacted river banks, left large sand and gravel deposits on the river floor, deposited years of vegetative debris in many areas, and impacted some of the important diversion structures needed by our agricultural community to irrigate their land.

“In some cases, land which was once available for production has been consumed by river flows.

“We’ve talked a lot with the state trying to convince them that the river is public infrastructure. State lands owns the floor of the river and a portion of the bank structure from what I understand. The Carson River serves to important roles in the Carson Valley. First, it is a flood control structure as a complete system. It conveys flood waters through the valley just as a large storm drain would. It also collects run off from other areas. Second, it is a “pipeline” for the critical water that our agricultural community needs for crop and livestock production. Agriculture is an important industry to Douglas County. For these two reasons, it is felt that the Carson River System is critical infrastructure of the State and that the state has some responsibility to maintain and address the damages with on the ground support.  It is a complicated issue, but one which must be worked out and not just pushed aside.

Carlini said while this year’s events were substantial, they have come nowhere near the flooding of ’97, during which he was in Lyon County managing the event there.

“The damage in Douglas County was set at $55 million in damages both public and private loss in ’97,” Carlini said. “You had quite a number of homes underwater there near the Carson Valley Golf Course.

Following the 1997 event, a considerable amount to work was done on the river, both in repair and maintenance.

Over time and with shrinking budgets, years of drought, and an economic collapse, the river system fell into a state of disrepair.

“There has been some recent work, done on the river and on the lands of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California, which helped prevent a similar 1997 condition in the and around the Carson Valley Golf Course with the January event of 2017,” Carlini said. “There has been tremendous cooperation from the Washoe Tribe for allowing the project work to take place. The Tribe deserves a tremendous amount of credit in terms of what they have contributed in approvals and working together to affect some positive change to the river in this area. . The Washoe Tribe is a community partner in my view and should be recognized for their contribution. Flooding does not discriminate by boundary or jurisdiction.

“The agricultural community has been a strong partner in our current efforts as well.  We wouldn’t be where we are today in terms of planning and response if it hadn’t been for them taking the time to sit with us and allow us to glean the institutional knowledge on that river. They hold generations of flood experience and we had them in one room talking about what potentially could happen. We took it all in,
soaked it up like a sponge and built a lot of our response plan around that.”

Other groups on the front line include the Carson Valley Conservation District and Carson River Sub Conservancy District.

“Both are working overtime to find funding and solutions as the primary steward of the Carson River,” Carlini said.
Carlini said the Nevada Division of Emergency Management has risen to the task during the recent events as well.

“The Nevada Division of Emergency Management is working very hard to assist all regional areas right now and is performing at the highest levels of service than I have ever seen in my long tenure in emergency services,” Carlini said. “They have set the bar pretty high with what they have done in Lemmon Valley and in Churchill County. The expectation is that they will be able to assist Douglas County in a similar manner with our specific concerns, now related to the potentials associated with the Spring runoff. Our greatest concern is the extended closure of US 395 in northern Douglas County. Both the January and February events closed this major highway for several days each time. We are doing all that we can to protect our citizens, our agricultural base, the commercial interests and tourism. Time and funding always seem to be the biggest challenges.”
More information on flood preparation can be found at nevadafloods.org.