EVERETT — When Snohomish County leaders got word this week that Uncle Sam would cut a multimillion-dollar check for Oso mudslide expenses, it was welcome news.
It’s likely to take another two or three years, though, until all federal and state payments arrive to help the county cope with the financial toll of March 22, 2014 catastrophe. When the process has run its course, the county expects to be left with $2 million to $3 million of the roughly $30 million it cost to respond. That doesn’t count what the state Department of Transportation spent to repair Highway 530.
A new Federal Emergency Management Agency grant for nearly $4.2 million covers part of what the county spent last summer to remove 200,000 cubic yards of dirt and trees from the disaster zone. FEMA also awarded nearly $3.5 million for the state of Washington’s debris-removal costs.
“This is definitely good news,” county Public Works director Steve Thomsen said of the grant. “It’s one of the steps in our recovery from the Oso disaster… The county, on the front end, had to bank the project and all of the expenditures. Now we’re in the process of requesting eligible reimbursement from FEMA. This is just one step of many more to come.”
The Oso mudslide covered a mile-square area in debris, killing 43 people. Major search operations lasted about a month, followed by work to clear the landscape. The state Department of Transportation reopened Highway 530 as fully functional, two-lane highway six months to the day after the landslide.
Word of the new grant arrived Monday in a joint press release from U.S. senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, along with U.S. Reps. Suzan DelBene and Rick Larsen, all Democrats from Washington.
“I will continue to push for resources to help the region recover and for research into how we can prevent and mitigate tragedies from future disasters,” DelBene said in a press release.
The county paid about $8 million to move and process debris last year, Thomsen said. The total reimbursement is expected to reach $7.4 million.
Debris-removal costs are one of four types of slide expenses the county has tracked.
The search-and-rescue operations cost about $13 million, Thomsen said. The county expects to receive roughly $10.4 million in federal and state funds to help pay those costs.
Rebuilding the recreational Whitehorse Trail through the slide area is expected to cost $1.4 million and isn’t expected to start until next year, he said.
The county hopes to receive word this summer on a separate FEMA grant to cover the costs of buying properties in the slide zone.
The county has requested $9.4 million to purchase 130 properties, said Heather Kelly, the county official overseeing long-term slide-recovery efforts. The county requested $12.8 million last year, but lowered the figure this spring after removing some properties from the list of intended buyouts.
“As soon as FEMA gives us a figure, we’ll be able to start working with the property owners,” Kelly said.
In most cases, federal funds are expected to cover 75 percent of the slide costs, with the state and county splitting the remaining 25 percent.
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, firstname.lastname@example.org.