Jefferson County Public Utility District crews clear brush and wires on Taison Lane in Quilcene after the snow and wind storm in the first week of January.

County seeks federal funds for storm costs

Emergency declaration approved

By Garrett Harr

and Leah Leach

Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County commissioners have issued an emergency declaration in hopes of receiving federal reimbursement for some of the expenses related to the snowstorms from Dec. 26 through the first week of January.

Storms have cost public utility districts in both Jefferson and Mason counties, as well as the county Public Works department, hundreds of thousands of dollars, commissioners were told Monday.

A county emergency declaration helps to pave the way for possible reimbursement of some of the costs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, augmenting Gov. Jay Inslee’s emergency declaration for the entire state.

The storms beginning in December caused dangerous travel conditions and temporary closures of government and private sector services, according to Willie Bence, county emergency management director, in an agenda memo for the commission meeting.

The winter storms culminated in the closure of some 50 miles of U.S. Highway 101 between its intersection with state Highway 104 and Hoodsport on the night of Jan. 2 until 1:30 p.m. Jan. 6.

That storm, characterized by both heavy, sudden snowfall that was as much as 18 inches in some places and high winds, knocked out electrical power to thousands as trees and heavy snow fell on power lines.

The worst of the damage — described as catastrophic by the state Department of Transportation — was on the Toandos Peninsula.

The area including Brinnon in Jefferson County south to Doty in Mason County was also hard-hit, according to Kristen Masteller, executive director of Mason County PUD 1.

Most of any FEMA reimbursement would go to the public utility districts, said Monte Reinder, county Public Works director and county engineer.

“Typically, snow removal costs are not offset by FEMA in these events,” he said, although reimbursement could cover some costs of debris removal, which is continuing this week.

County road crews worked 10- to 12-hour days on staggered shifts so that snow plowing was done generally from 4 a.m. to midnight each day, Reinders said.

“It was really bad, and it will cost us something,” Reinders said, although he lacked estimates this week.

Although “we will gladly reap the benefit of any kind of FEMA reimbursement that comes along,” he said. “The bigger costs are with the PUDs.”

The estimate of costs so far for Jefferson County Public Utility District (PUD) was $500,000 as of Monday, Jefferson PUD General Manager Kevin Streett told commissioners.

That is an early estimate.

“We will know more in the next day or two,” said PUD spokesperson Will O’Donnell.

“We will have to go back and do a lot of cleanup. … We got equipment stuck … We’re still tallying up overtime,” with people working around the clock.

Mason PUD 1, which provides the Brinnon area and the northern part of Mason county with electricity, spent about $250,000 on repairs after the storm, Masteller said.

“In the first week of the year, we spent 30 percent of our budget” for the year, she said at the Jefferson County commissioners’ meeting on Monday.

“The damage was quick and widespread,” she said.

Mason 1 and Jefferson PUD worked together — along with help from other PUDs, including Clallam’s — to clear fallen power lines and clear the way for county crews to plow roads.

Reinder praised his road crews as well as the PUDs.

“It was great to see the cooperation between the PUDs and the county,” he said.

He added crews are no longer plowing snow but are working on cleaning up fallen trees and other debris.

“We had just pushed it off the road far enough to get the snow plows through,” he said.

Crews are returning to cut the trees back and chip them.

The people working on the county roads crew are “not as many as people as you might think … the taxpayers are relying on a small handful of people,” Reinder said.

“It’s not a huge workforce.

“We’re lucky to have a few dedicated folks.”

________

Garrett Harr can be reached at [email protected]

Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at [email protected].

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