SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Flood-ravaged southern Utah communities will get $25 million in relief funds from state coffers, money that could be available as early as next week.
The money will be distributed as a low interest loan, Senate President John Valentine said Wednesday at joint news conference of legislative leaders and Gov. Jon Huntsman.
The loans are just one part of a three-pronged state effort to assist with the short term needs of Washington County communities where the flooding Virgin and Santa Clara rivers destroyed nearly 20 homes and left 100 families without shelter.
State monies will be designated for reconstruction of water and sewer lines, stabilization of river beds, and reconstruction of roads and bridges, Valentine said.
Details of the loan -- like how it will be distributed, what interest rate might be paid and from where in the state budget the funds will be drawn -- are still being worked out.
The money could come from the state's existing rainy day funds or could be appropriated as one-time money from the budget, Valentine said. The state also has a projected $270 million budget surplus to draw from. Some legislative action may be needed if budget funds are to be appropriated, Valentine said.
The state will tap $6 million from the revolving loan funds for damage to water systems, irrigation and sewer lines. The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) is also coordinating with a federal highway relief fund to get money for roads and bridges, he said.
Utah is still awaiting a federal disaster designation from President Bush, something Huntsman said he hopes will come in the next few days.
But financial relief from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will take months, and the need to rebuild Washington County's damaged or destroyed infrastructure and public services is immediate.
That's why the state's help is so important, Washington County Commission Chair Jim Eardley said, who learned about lawmakers' decision from a reporter.
"We're basically out of money and there's a lot of work to be done," Eardley said, noting that rain was falling again in St. George on Wednesday. "We're really vulnerable right now, and we've got to get these roads fixes and those river banks shored up. So this $25 million will really help."
Early estimates placed damages at as much as $160 million, with another $80- to $100 million needed for river reclamation.
Eardley met with state leaders when they toured the flood damage last weekend and said that $25 million was a consensus figure that will take care of short term problems until federal funds can be tapped.
"It's really bridge money," Eardley said. "I'm really surpassed at how fast things are moving (with the state). We really are grateful."
Valentine said he hoped the state could make funds available to Washington County before the month is out.
As of Wednesday, state leaders were only committed to assistance for local governments.
But Valentine didn't rule out that possibility and did say staff was trying to determine if there were a legal impediments to making funds available to individuals.
Both Zion's Bank and the Deseret Federal Credit Union are collecting private funds for flood victims.
Most homeowners were without flood insurance. Federal personal disaster assistance funds are limited, however. FEMA can provide up to $26,000 in rent for temporary housing; $10,500 in replacement costs for homes destroyed; and just $5,600 for damage repairs, Martin McNeese with FEMA has said.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)