Lawmakers Push for Emergency Aid for Flood-Stricken Eastern Oregon

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U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Hood River) and U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) wrote to President Trump urging for an expedited review of the “presidential major disaster declaration” for parts of Oregon that were flooded earlier this year.

The declaration was requested by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown for three Oregon counties and a tribal nation that suffered severe damage from historic flooding in February. Officials estimate damages to public and individual property amount to more than $30 million.

The lawmakers also emphasized the urgent need to provide assistance through other programs that would assist the hardest-hit areas – Umatilla County and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation – and provide statewide resources.

“Those historic floods combined with erosion, landslides and mudslides led to destruction that placed significant stresses on local emergency resources and financial hardship for Oregonians living and working in these small communities,” the lawmakers wrote. “Hundreds of homes were damaged or destroyed, several with private wells that are now unable to provide clean drinking water. Around 90 percent of the damaged homes were uninsured, with many of the residents in these rural neighborhoods economically disadvantaged. Unfortunately, Umatilla County had a housing shortage before the event. Affordable rental housing is nearly nonexistent, particularly within a reasonable commuting distance of the impacted areas.”

A federal disaster declaration will allow local governments in affected counties – Umatilla, Union and Wallowa – to seek reimbursement for a large portion of costs and losses. Additionally, businesses and homeowners will be eligible for loans, insurance relief, and other assistance that will allow businesses to re-open their doors and help vulnerable residents regain safe and secure homes.

In advocating for the urgent review and rapid release of funding, the lawmakers emphasized how the community came together in a time of crisis, preventing even more substantial damages.

“The tragedy could have been greater had it not been for the compassionate efforts of rural residents throughout the region,” they wrote. “In one Pendleton neighborhood, city employees drove a front-end loader through four feet of flood waters strong enough to carry train cars and large trees, to rescue trapped residents. In the small town of Milton-Freewater, the Corps of Engineers and the local Water Control District worked tirelessly through the night to keep the levee from breaching within city limits. In Union County, Elgin residents worked for hours filling sandbags to protect their community from rising waters coming from two directions: Phillips Creek and the Grande Ronde River.”