Clearwater County Emergency Management Coordinator Don Gardner provided an update on the Disaster Declaration for the wildfires at Monday’s Board of Clearwater County Commissioners’ meeting. On Wednesday, July 14, the Clearwater County Commissioners declared a disaster due to the wildland fires in the county and surrounding areas. These fires have consumed air resources used for daily emergency response and no air resources are available to support any new calls for response. Currently our Back County Medics have no air resource to respond with.
The county applied for air assets and were denied. Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) has received all of the air assets for this area, to include two Blackhawk Helicopters at the Lewiston Airport. It was indicated that they didn’t believe support was possible and if it was, it would be a cost of $500,000 every two weeks, of which the county is responsible for half of that amount. The county cannot afford one-half million dollars every month for the next couple of months, so that concept has been dropped.
If the county wishes to file another declaration for the new fires and new threats, it will have to be done separately, due to the last declaration asking for air assets only.
The county has not yet been included in the State’s Disaster Declaration, this doesn’t provide what the county is asking. The county is seeking support and there are at least another two months of fire season remaining.
Every year the county receives a grant through the State Homeland Security Program, (SHSP) approximately $25,359. However, it is dispersed with more and more restrictions as to how the money is spent.
Twenty-five percent of the grant must be used for law enforcement, seven and one-half percent must go to domestic violent extremism, (with the recent conclusion that there are certain groups to be extreme nationally), and another seven and one-half percent to be spent on cyber - the State of Idaho requires that money to be spent on enhancing cyber security, enhancing the protection of soft targets, largely focused on schools, enhancing information sharing and intelligence. There is a diffusion center which would take the county’s money in the past, in order to participate. Combating domestic violent extremism is required by the state, but with a project to be determined, indicating they are still unsure of how to do this.
The county already has a diffusion center for the State of Idaho to watch groups and coordinate information. In order to address emerging threats the money goes to Idaho’s special teams, such as the bomb squad, Hazmat, etc.
Gardner stated he was responsible to apply goals and funds to this money as soon as possible.
Finding ways to supplement law enforcement was not a problem, stated Gardner, law enforcement could encompass any of the above problems.
Last year, Clearwater County spent $17,000 of this annual grant toward cyber security and a back-up system for their computers.
Gardner has considered that perhaps the money could be used toward a keyless entry system for the courthouse similar to the new system Orofino Police Department will be using. The money would apply to almost all of the state’s requirements. More investigation will be needed to learn what the actual cost would be. It would be an expensive project to be sure, but perhaps that could be one way to best utilize the grant.
Gardner explained several items pertaining to the city’s request to assist in the grant writing and work required for the Orofino Creek mitigation.
Gardner was asked by the City if he could secure the necessary permits. He stated that he has done so in circumstances of successfully acquiring necessary permits within seven days, when it typically requires several months. But that is not how it works generally. City Administrator Ryan Smathers had asked if Gardener would be able to help write the grant for funds to help with the project. There was discussion of a project to allow multiple years to clear the rocks out. A company called the Inner City Fund Restorational Group are grantwriters and ask for $58,000 to write the grant, which was requested if the county could split the costs with the city.
This amount does not pay for the work, nor does it include management of the grant which is another expense.
“Nothing is settled,” said Gardner, “we just need to determine how to move forward.”
Commissioner Rick Winkel agreed to speak with Smathers and the council regarding sharing the costs.
“This isn’t an economic development issue,” said Gardner. “I am capable of writing a grant, I have experience and have been successful in writing grants, but am I able to do it now? The answer is no. I have other duties to tend to this summer. We’re working backwards, the city should be applying for the grant and we should support them. It falls into my department if there is a flood.”
Commissioner Winkel stated that the Sheriff’s department would also be involved in the case of flooding, “Which is why we agreed to pay half of the expenses ($5,000) for the Foresite Engineering plans for how to proceed with the problem and what needs to be done to remedy the situation.”
“The project will need to be managed,” said Gardner, “which is an additional expense. There needs to be work heavily in a relationship with the Corps of Engineers. They are the ones who will help us get a multiple-year permit to clear the rocks.
“Another thing to consider, is that there is a 25 percent match of the award amount which is also payable with in-kind money for labor. We want to be sure the city is willing to split this with us as well,” added Gardner. “We need to know who will manage the grant if it is successful.
“There is no doubt that it needs to be done,” said Gardner, “We just have to be realistic of what this project will actually entail.”