Million-dollar question

  • By Scott North and Jeff Switzer / Herald Writers
  • Sunday, February 26, 2006 9:00pm
  • Local NewsLocal news

Snohomish County should learn today whether it will win back a $1 million federal homeland security grant leaders say is needed to keep rescue crews talking during a major disaster here.

A group of emergency management experts has scheduled a private conference call today to discuss the grant’s fate and a half-dozen competing proposals, said Rob Harper, spokesman for Washington State Emergency Management.

“They’re going to want to make sure whatever project they pick meets the federal criteria and is done by the end of the year,” Harper said. “If it’s money the state has received, they’re working really hard to not hand it back” to the federal government.

The panel includes officials from King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, the city of Seattle and the state.

The $1 million last year was awarded to buy computers and other equipment for upgrading the operations center used by Snohomish County’s emergency management department.

The center, tucked away at Paine Field, is not equipped to handle a disaster larger than seasonal flooding, officials say.

Snohomish County leaders have been scrambling since late December when they say they were told they would lose the grant unless they immediately submitted a spending plan for upgrading the center.

County Executive Aaron Reardon in January asked for an extension, but the panel managing the grant said they were instead putting the money up for grabs.

The county has since submitted a spending plan, but also is arguing that it did not miss any required deadline, said Susan Neely, an executive director in Reardon’s office who specializes in law and justice issues.

“There’s nothing in writing that we have found with that Dec. 31 date. We are still following the contract, which has very specific language,” Neely said.

The county’s bid to keep the grant has received support from U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., who recently wrote a top state emergency management official to argue that the region will be more at risk if Snohomish County’s disaster-preparedness needs go unmet.

Reardon earlier said the grant was in jeopardy because of Roger Serra, former director of the independent Department of Emergency Management before the county took control in January. Serra countered that the county failed to give him sufficient direction on a spending plan.

County Council members, meanwhile, defended Serra, who ended 61/2 years with emergency management last month to be security director for Seattle City Light.

Snohomish County’s project is now one of six competing for the grant money. Harper on Friday said he would not elaborate on the other proposed projects, the dollar amounts or jurisdictions seeking the projects.

Today’s meeting will occur in secret for security reasons, Harper said.

“They do get into detail on projects and deal with specific capabilities and vulnerabilities” of emergency operations, he said.

Reporter Scott North: 425-339-3431 or

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