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Trump administration approves Utah disaster declaration for September windstorm

Utah Department of Transportation transportation technicians Colby Larsen, left, and Kurt O’Neal pick up windstorm debris in the Rose Park neighborhood of Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020. O’Neal was sitting in the driver’s seat of a UDOT truck as Larsen was picking up trash behind the truck on the side of I-15 this summer when another vehicle struck their truck, narrowly missing Larsen.

(Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced Wednesday that President Donald Trump has approved a major disaster declaration related to the September windstorm that downed trees and caused power outages across northern Utah.

Federal disaster assistance is now available to state and local governments and certain nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis, FEMA said. Brian Hvinden, a FEMA spokesman, told KSL.com the federal government will provide at least 75% of approved project costs, but no final dollar figure is yet available.

A Preliminary Damage Assessment found nearly $9 million in windstorm damages in four Utah counties — Salt Lake, Davis, Weber and Morgan. Utah Division of Emergency Management spokesman Wade Matthews said that assessment was used only to determine eligibility for a disaster declaration and likely doesn't represent the full scope of the damage.

"All that information that was gathered will be used to reach out again to those same entities, those local jurisdictions," Matthews said. "Again, this is public assistance, meaning it's for publicly owned, government-owned infrastructure, not individual."

Matthews said there will be a "window of opportunity" opened, with a defined start and end date, where entities can apply for federal assistance. They can use the same information from the preliminary assessment or apply for new damages as well, Matthews said.

In the preliminary assessment, more than $7 million of the $9 million estimate was for debris removal. The windstorm downed thousands of trees and scattered limbs and branches that took weeks to fully clear.

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Hvinden said Utah will hold a program applicant briefing soon for eligible government entities and nonprofits to walk them through the funding application process.

"Basically, that is an event where the state explains the process to potential applicants on what they need to do to apply for assistance and then what kind of documentation and information they need to provide," Hvinden said. He reiterated the assistance is not for individuals or businesses but rather for public entities.

An applicant briefing related to the March Magna earthquake will be Wednesday, Hvinden said. "So I would guess the briefing for the next one would come in the next week or so."

The earthquake also garnered a major disaster declaration for the state.

Then-Gov. Gary Herbert requested a presidential disaster declaration related to the September windstorm on Oct. 7; Division of Emergency Management mitigation and recovery manager Janna Wilkinson told KSL in November that the "current election season" and "other events nationwide" might be slowing the process of disaster approvals.

In addition to federal funding for emergency work and repairs in the four counties most affected by the windstorm, Wednesday's emergency declaration will also free up an unspecified amount of federal cash for "hazard mitigation" efforts in Utah, a FEMA press release said. Those funds can be used anywhere in the state and for any type of disaster prevention, and will also be at least 75% matched.

"Once we determine how much money will be provided in total," Hvinden said, "15% of that figure will be made available to the state for grants for other projects, for mitigation for future disaster damage."

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