Federal funding now available following winter storms

PORTLAND — Umatilla County is one of nine rural counties eligible to apply for grant funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture following severe winter storms that took place earlier this year, which may have caused extensive damage to different areas.

The funding, totaling $150 million, comes from a $19.1 billion bipartisan disaster relief package passed by Congress this summer.

According to a recent press release from the office of Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, municipalities, public bodies, tribal nations and nonprofit organizations are eligible to apply for the grants through the Community Facilities Program. The other eligible counties include Coos, Curry, Douglas, Grant, Jefferson, Lane, Linn and Wheeler.

In February, heavy snowfall broke records for towns across Umatilla County. Pendleton alone received 32.5 recorded inches of snow during that month, moving up from 16.8 record inches in 1994.

Pendleton had 22 days of snowfall, and Hermiston had 19 during the month. The storm resulted in school and business closures across the county. Snowpack was up by 160% in some parts of the state.

“It was significant for us just that typically in February, we’re beginning to wind down our snow removal,” said Hermiston City Manager Byron Smith. “We had a lot of labor costs.”

Stanfield public works director Scott Morris said that damages caused by snow were minimal for the city.

“Our biggest challenge was keeping Pilot open. Trucks get stuck,” Morris said. “We’re not very big, we’ve got a couple of snowplows. But we do a good job of keeping everything open.”

But Merkley and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., both stated that the damages were extensive for many across the state.

“In some cases, families and businesses struggled for weeks without power or other basic resources — and many still live with the financial consequences of those storms,” Merkley stated in the press release.

Snowmelt the following spring was a contributing factor in the county-wide flooding that led to the Umatilla County commissioners declaring an emergency in April.