Mar. 17—CHEYENNE — Gov. Mark Gordon and the Laramie County Board of Commissioners issued emergency declarations Wednesday for the historic snowstorm that blanketed southeast Wyoming over the weekend.
The actions were a way to secure more resources for the aftermath and financial assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Whether Wyoming's cities, towns and counties will receive FEMA assistance, however, will depend on the amount of damages across the state. At least $1 million in damages must be identified in Wyoming for President Joe Biden to consider an emergency declaration. If that declaration is issued, Laramie County's municipalities will be able to apply for reimbursement.
Additionally, the emergency declaration from the governor allows the director of the Wyoming Office of Homeland Security to mobilize state and federal personnel, resources and organizations to address the impacts of the storm.
"The scale and intensity of this storm have caused severe impacts to our transportation infrastructure and agriculture producers," Gordon said in a news release. "As the scope of the situation unfolds, and with the possibility of flooding as temperatures warm, it's imperative we make all our resources available to respond to the needs in our communities."
The governor's move also allows the adjutant general to deploy the Wyoming National Guard, if needed, in conjunction with Homeland Security. According to a news release from the governor, no Guard members have been activated at this time.
Still, a lot is up in the air for how assistance would look in Laramie County. After gaining the federal emergency declaration, each county must select a 48-hour incident period for which to receive reimbursement from FEMA, which could be a challenge, considering the duration of the local response to the storm. To be eligible, at least $357,000 in damages across Laramie County must be identified.
Commissioner Troy Thompson said, "We probably want to be careful how we pick that, considering what kind of damages we'd be looking for reimbursement on to make sure that we're picking the right window to maximize that return."
According to Lynn Budd, Wyoming Homeland Security director, a number of expenses will qualify for reimbursement: city gaps in insurance payments for damaged buildings, overtime for snowstorm responders like firefighters and costs for contracted snow removal crews, among other expenses. For those costs from the determined 48-hour period, municipalities would receive 75% federal reimbursement.
After getting the federal declaration and FEMA approval, the Wyoming Department of Homeland Security would distribute those funds. Still, there is uncertainty whether the snowstorm will trigger a flooding event that will also require assistance.
"As we have that snow melt happening, whether (FEMA) would see this as one whole event or two events, I don't know," Budd said.
As the situation progresses, local leaders are working closely with each other and Homeland Security to determine the best route to take to get the highest amount of relief funding possible from FEMA.
But, as Budd said, "It's a complicated process and not a quick process."
With that, there is currently no timeline for when these funds might reach Laramie County. County Commission Chairman Gunnar Malm said the county will continue responding to the snowstorm as necessary, with the hope of receiving reimbursement down the line.
Margaret Austin is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle's local government reporter. She can be reached at [email protected] or 307-633-3152. Follow her on Twitter at @MargaretMAustin.
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