A request to the Biden administration to issue a presidential major disaster declaration shows an initial glimpse into the long road ahead for Montana to recover, where possible, from devastating flooding.
The request, dated Wednesday, was signed by the lieutenant governor acting in capacity as governor while Gov. Greg Gianforte returns from a personal trip out of the country.
The letter says more than 5,300 yards of debris have been removed from U.S. 89 and Highway 540, also known as East River Road, that run parallel along either side of the Yellowstone River through the Paradise Valley.
There are also five damaged state-owned bridges and 218 miles of road closed, “most of which have no alternative route,” according to the request.
The initial estimate of damage to transportation infrastructure alone is $29 million.
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The Montana Army National Guard said in a press release Wednesday it has rescued 87 people using helicopters and flown more than 41 hours in support of search and rescue operations.
The request also points out that Carbon County relies on $68 million from tourism each year from 500,000-600,000 visitors. Park County sees $200 million injected into the local economy.
“High percentages of the workforce in these areas are in the hospitality and recreation sector,” according to the request.
The letter also points out the housing crisis that was already affecting now-flooded communities will now be worse.
“Stock and availability in the affected communities is already limited. Damage to residential areas will exacerbate this issue. The subsequent economic losses to these communities will be significant and long lasting,” the request reads.
The letter also pointed out that many of the counties with flooding are remote places where “essential services are few and far between” and that alternate routes, if available, could add hours of travel times.
The request cites flooding in multiple basins and washed-out stream gauge stations yet to be repaired “since the entire bridges on which they were mounted were washed downstream.” It also says high winds have combined with raging rivers to take down power transmission lines.
The letter says the combination of rainfall hitting late-spring snowpack equated to “somewhere between a 1 in 100-year event (1% recurrence frequency) and a 1 in 500-year event (0.2% recurrence interval),” according to the letter.
“Continued flooding is expected in coming days as the high water and debris moves downstream,” the request says.
The request asks for help from the:
- Environmental Protection Agency, to assess damage to public water and waste water infrastructure and assist with impacts of any oil and gas infrastructure or hazardous spills.
- U.S. Department of Energy, to help restore power.
- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to provide support operations to reduce flooding where possible, share equipment and assess water treatment facilities and other critical infrastructure.
- U.S. Department of Transportation, to assess damaged federal roadway.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to help with damaged health care facilities and evacuation of patients.
- U.S. Geological Survey, to assist with data collection and impacts from the flooding.