FEMA arrives to assess damages

Houghton City Manager Eric Waara, right, describes the damage along Huron Creek to U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow and State Rep. Scott Dianda in Houghton Monday. (Houghton Daily Mining Gazette photo by Garrett Neese)

HOUGHTON — As federal teams began arriving in Houghton County to assess flood damages on Monday, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow visited several sites to see the devastation and the work that has already been done to improve it.

Teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Michigan State Police Emergency Management and Homeland Security Office will go throughout the county to visit sites identified by local assessment teams, Houghton County said in a release Monday. The teams will then compare their figures to the ones compiled locally, which roughly put the damage at $50 million. That comparison will determine whether the area qualifies for federal disaster status — and the amount of federal aid that comes with it.

The Michigan Department of Transportation announced today that it had submitted a notice of intent to the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration requesting emergency relief funds to repair flood-damaged roads in the Upper Peninsula.

If granted, the funds would be used to repair federally funded state and local roads in Houghton, Menominee and Gogebic counties — declared a “state of disaster” by Gov. Rick Snyder last week. Numerous roads were heavily damaged by extreme runoff and flooding following intense rain on June 16-17.

MDOT said in its release, damage estimates to roads in these counties are anticipated to exceed $28.7 million. The FHA will determine eligibility for federal relief funds following a review of the estimates. MDOT is requesting the expedited release of any federal funds.

“They’ve come in record time, at our urging, to do an assessment,” Stabenow said of FEMA. “We’ve got to find out what their assessment is, and that’ll tell us what’s available through FEMA.”

Stabenow, who is also a ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, said the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development division will have an important role to play in bringing in grants and loans for roads, bridges, sewer systems and other damaged infrastructure.

The county Emergency Response Team is starting to move from disaster response and recovery to the reconstruction phase, it said in a release.

“I’m going to do everything humanly possible to get the resources that are needed … I know the snow’s coming and things need to move as quickly as possible,” Stabenow said.

One of those joining Stabenow on Monday’s tour was Jason Allen, director of USDA Rural Development for Michigan. The agency distributes more than $1 billion annually in grants and loans.

“It’s humbling to take a look at the amount of community involvement,” he said. “I also am just surprised and almost caught off-guard by the amount of damage that large quantities of water can do.”

Stabenow toured damaged sites in Houghton, Hancock, Stanton Township and Ripley, as well as visiting the Volunteer Registration Center in Houghton.

At each stop, people pulled out their phones to show her photos of what the site had looked like a week earlier. Stabenow marveled at the differences.

“I think it’s really extraordinary, first the power of the water and the damage, and then a week later, to see how much of this has been at least mitigated so people can move out of their homes, they can drive,” she said. “There may have been a concrete road and now it’s gravel or dirt, but the way things have improved in just a week is amazing, and that’s people that are volunteering, the people that are stepping up.”