Butte County declares emergency/disaster following May flooding

Butte County Tuesday declared an emergency/disaster after spring flooding wreaked havoc on roads and bridges around the county like the Indian Creek Bridge on Arpan Road, pictured under water during the flooding. Photo courtesy of the Butte County Sheriff’s Office

BELLE FOURCHE –– Butte County roads and bridges suffered extreme damage brought on by excessive rainfall and flooding in May, prompting the county commission Tuesday to declare an emergency in an effort to receive federal funding to assist with infrastructure repair costs.

According to the National Weather Service’s Rapid City office, Belle Fourche received 5.5 inches of rain in May.

“Butte County experienced extensive damage and loss of critical infrastructure, which threatens the health, safety, and welfare of the public, and the financial stability of the local governing units,” Elaine Jensen, auditor, read from the disaster resolution Tuesday.

The declaration stated that the county has “committed available resources and taken all possible actions within the jurisdictional boundaries to combat and to alleviate the emergency disaster and local resources are not adequate to cope with the situation.” 

Although the county initially anticipated that it would be able to handle the expense of some of the necessary repair work, Commission Chairman Kim Richards said Tuesday that it has become apparent that is no longer the case.

“We’ve had major issues with bridges,” he said. “Obviously our losses are going to be considerable.”

Jensen said this is the first step in the process to requested assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). She said the declaration would be sent to the state emergency management office and Gov. Kristi Noem’s office, requesting Noem to declare the county as an emergency disaster area. If agreed, Jensen said the county would be required to provide documentation to and coordinate with the FEMA.

The agency’s primary purpose is to coordinate the response to a disaster that has occurred in the U.S. and that overwhelms the resources of local and state authorities. The governor of the state in which a disaster occurs must declare a state of emergency and formally request from the president that FEMA and the federal government respond to the disaster. 

The commission unanimously voted to adopt the resolution to seek potential disaster relief funds.

Earlier this month, President Donald Trump approved a disaster declaration for 58 counties and three reservations in South Dakota affected by a severe winter storm, snowstorm, and flooding from March 13 to April 26.Butte County was not among them at the time. 

Following the disaster declaration, the county also adopted its five-year hazard mitigation plan prepared by the Black Hills Council of Local Governments (BHCLG). 

Garth Wadsworth, community development planner with BHCLG, told the commission that implementing a hazard mitigation plan is the first step in the effort to reduce loss of life and property by lessening the impact of disasters. 

“It is the first step to applying for funding from FEMA; it’s required to have in place … in order to be eligible for the funding (assistance),” he said. 

The plan, Wadsworth said, has already been approved by the state and FEMA.

The commission unanimously voted to adopt the plan, agreeing to facilitate the plan throughout the 2019-2024 time period. 

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