Grand County residents and business owners continue to pick up the pieces after record flooding on Aug. 20. Floodwaters rerouted the creek, moved tons of debris, and forced many businesses to temporarily close: the combination of lost business and repair costs to the community is substantial. However, in order to qualify for assistance from federal agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency or the U.S. Small Business Administration, damages must meet minimum thresholds.
Community Support Liaison for the Utah Division of Emergency Management Whitney Coonrod explained that there are several programs that provide federal disaster relief funds to affected areas, but Grand County has already been disqualified from some of them. For example, if at least 100 homes had sustained major damage from the Aug. 20 flood, then the area would have been eligible for an “individual assistance” program through FEMA. State and federal officials have joined local officials in inspections and assessments over the last weeks, and did not find 100 homes that qualified—within the City of Moab, 23 homes reported being impacted by the flood: two were destroyed, three sustained major damage, and 18 were affected.
The U.S. Small Business Administration offers low-interest loans for homes and businesses affected by “declared disasters,” but for an event to qualify, at least 25 homes and businesses must have suffered major damage. Coonrod accompanied SBA inspectors and met with county staff last week to make site visits at reported properties; she said they only identified about 15 that met the parameters for major damage, meaning the SBA will not declare the Aug. 20 flood a disaster and the loan program is not available to affected property owners.
Coonrod explained that there are many scenarios that can define damage as major: if the water line exceeds the level of electrical wiring (three feet), for example, or if major appliances like a furnace or water heater are damaged or destroyed. Some kinds of damages don’t count: wrecked landscaping, for example, is not considered “major” damage.
Another FEMA program offers funds to communities where damage to public assets—things like roadways and bridges—exceeds a certain threshold. For the Aug. 20 flood, that threshold is $5.3 million, and experts are still evaluating reported damages to see if the community will qualify. Both Grand and Wayne counties were affected, so their costs will be combined toward the threshold; both counties have submitted reports to the state.
“We’re vetting those damages right now,” Coonrod said, “going through and finding what qualifies and what doesn’t.”
For example, damage to infrastructure that’s already covered by insurance won’t count toward the threshold; damage caused by events other than the flood won’t qualify; and certain types of infrastructure also don’t qualify. Coonrod said the assessment likely won’t be complete until next week at the earliest; it’s uncertain whether the damages will exceed the $5.3 million threshold.
“It’s getting close,” Coonrod said. “That’s why we’re going through it with a fine-tooth comb.”
In the meantime, Grand County, Moab City and the governor have all declared a state of emergency in the area, which lasts for 30 days. The end of that timeframe approaches, but during the state of emergency local officials can request aid in the form of labor and equipment from the state. The state does not have monetary funds available, but can, for example, send Utah Department of Transportation staff and equipment or Utah Highway Patrol officers to help with things like road repair and traffic control.
The Grand County Economic Development office has also created a grant program for flood relief for local businesses. There’s a total of $250,000 available, and grants will be awarded in amounts of $5,000 or 20% of an organization’s assessed damage, whichever is higher; awards are capped at $20,000. Nonprofits, businesses and sole proprietorships are eligible. The application window closes on Sept. 18. Learn more at grandcountyutah.net/flood: click on the flood grant information button.