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Officials take next steps for flood aid — but don't expect feds to pay for home repairs

(Shara Park, KSL TV, File)


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SALT LAKE CITY — In step two toward obtaining federal financial assistance for Salt Lake City after a 200-year storm flooded schools, libraries and homes, Salt Lake County has now issued its emergency declaration.

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams signed the proclamation Monday following Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski's declaration last week, launching the process so the state may eventually ask for federal assistance if eligible damage costs rise to the appropriate level.

According to the county's state of emergency declaration, the damages caused by the storm appear to have exceeded $6 million.

Clint Mecham, Salt Lake County's Emergency Manager and Unified Fire Authority battalion chief, said most of that $6 million in damage is centered in Sugar House, where dozens of homes were flooded.

Next, state officials must evaluate damage estimates before declaring an emergency and requesting federal assistance.

In order to qualify for federal assistance, the state must have more than $3.9 million in eligible damage — which isn't already covered by insurance, according to Joe Dougherty, a spokesman for the Utah Division of Emergency Management.

In addition to homes, East High School, Highland High School and Emerson Elementary School were damaged by flooding last Wednesday. The damage was most extensive at East High, where repair costs are expected to reach between $3 million to $5 million.

However, Yándary Zavala Chatwin, spokeswoman for the Salt Lake City School District, said Monday the district has been informed that its insurance will cover the costs.

Other homeowners might not be so lucky — especially those who don't have flood insurance.

Even if Salt Lake City does qualify for federal assistance, those dollars likely won't be available to homeowners and business owners, since Federal Emergency Management Agency dollars are typically only reserved for damage to public infrastructure and reimbursement to cities for emergency responses, Dougherty said.

"There are definite rules the state, city and county have to follow, and it's very unlikely at this point it's going to rise to the level where we're going to get any federal-level assistance for individuals," Mecham said.

And if federal assistance is eventually approved, it will take months before coming to the city, Dougherty said, because funds will only be provided as reimbursements after repairs take place.

However, the Small Business Administration may make low-interest loans available to individuals affected by the storm, Dougherty said.

"We understand this is a really traumatic event for many of our residents," said Matthew Rojas, Biskupski's spokesman. "We're doing everything we can to help minimize damage and to help bring people some immediate relief."

Simultaneously, Rojas said the city is trying to "manage expectations" of residents.

"This could be a very long process, and there's no guarantee that the city or residents will receive any level of compensation," Rojas said.

The city plans to set up a "one-stop-shop" recovery center on Wednesday to assist victims of the storm.

The center will be located at the Horizonte Instruction and Training Center, 1234 S. Main, from Wednesday to Friday, noon to 8 p.m. each day.

Rojas said experts from Salt Lake City’s Housing & Neighborhood Development Division, Mayor’s Office for Disability Rights, police department, public utilities and volunteer organizations will be available to answer questions and assist. Other agencies include Salt Lake County Human Services, Salt Lake County Aging Services, and volunteers from the Utah Bar Association with legal expertise in disaster relief and support.

The Small Business Administration will also be able to provide information on low-interest loans, and city officials will be there to help low-income residents with any potential financial assistance from the city, Rojas said.

Rojas urged residents who have incurred property damage to report it to the department of public utilities as soon as possible and to not hire a contractor to fix repairs without checking their license.

Unfortunately, Rojas said there has already been one instance when a homeowner was given "misinformation" by a contractor, with a promise that the city will pay their work back in full.

"We hope residents will engage with us" and ask questions before making repairs, Rojas said. "We can't make any promises about finances, but we're doing all we can to connect them to all the services residents might need."

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Katie McKellar

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