FLOOD RECOVERY UPDATE: Progress slow, but inching forward

Thursday, July 21, 2022
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From the left: Sibanye-Stillwater mine officials Jeff Sargent and Heather McDowell help provide Sen. Steve Daines with a progress report last Friday. Photo courtesy of Senator Steve Daines

More than five weeks after the historic flooding of the Stillwater and Yellowstone rivers that left 11 families homeless and millions of dollars of personal, county and state damages, the path forward for those in the southern end of the county in particular remains difficult and slow.

There is hope however.

“I would say that the path to recovery is becoming more clear over time. Disaster recovery from a flooding event has many parts — obtaining proper permits, applying for assistance, hiring a contractor, waiting until the water recedes — and this extends the process,” said Stillwater County Disaster and Emergency Services Coordinator David Stamey.

FEMA ON THE GROUND

While it is good news that through FEMA and other programs, the county, city of Columbus, homeowners and renters will have access to federal money for restoration efforts, that process is a slow one.

But there is help in navigating what can be a daunting process. FEMA currently has a Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) open at Absarokee Elementary School for those affected by the flooding. That DRC is being jointly operated by Montana Disaster and Emergency Services (DES) and is open daily this week from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. each day.

Also in the county are representatives from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), such as SBA Public Information Officer Louise Porter.

Porter explained to the News that the SBA includes private homeowners and renters. Acknowledging that the federal system is complicated and somewhat intimidating, Porter said it is vital that all flood-impacted residents do two things:

•Register with FEMA (http://www.disasterassistance.gov/)

•Complete the SBA application by Aug. 29

Porter said the FEMA registration is vital as that is what gets a resident into the system where the experts can then properly direct what agency is best suited to help.

Porter also said that registering for FEMA and filling out a SBA loan are not binding. If the loan is approved, it merely becomes an option for the applicant.

As of Wednesday morning, there had been 128 FEMA registrations in Stillwater County, according to Porter. Of those, 82 reported physical damage to their homes, 36 reported physical damage to their business and three reported Economic Injury only.

“At this time we have received 15 applications in Stillwater County (it does not specify home or business). And there have been three home loan approvals in Stillwater County for a total of $274,900,” said Porter.

INFRASTRUCTURE REPAIR STATUS

While Stamey says roads are basically the same as they’ve been for weeks ( shttps://stillwatercomt.maps.arcgis.com/apps/ instant/basic/index.html?appid=135ef4e8574743c9b0cc2aa13938 b4d7), the county Road & Bridge Department is actively working with state DES, FEMA and engineers to plan for repairs to infrastructure.

SIBANYE-STILLWATER MINE STATUS

As of Wednesday, July 20, the Sibanye-Stillwater mining company announced that all Nye employees were back at work and the facility was edging back toward normal production. The construction of the temporary pipeline corridor was progressing slightly ahead of schedule. Pressure testing is the next step for final completion.

“With these developments, all employees should now progress back to their normal schedules and work. We are grateful for everyone’s hard work and patience during this event,” said U.S. PGM Operations Vice President Wayne Robinson in the update.

Last week, the mine began offering miners advances on incentive pay, saying “we recognize receiving base pay for the last five weeks may have still left those of you who also rely on routine incentive pay with a financial shortfall.”

Last Friday, U.S. Senator Steve Daines met with mine and county officials for a day-by-day briefing of what has occurred to better understand the scope of the disaster for the mine. Daines said he would continue to work on getting the resources needed for recovery efforts, including the repair of Highway 419, according to Daines’ Deputy Press Secretary Blake Kernen.

“Recovery efforts in Stillwater County are strong but we still have a ways to go. It was great to get an update from folks on the ground and we’ll keep working together to ensure critical infrastructure and access to Stillwater mine is fully restored,” Daines said.