Governor issues disaster declaration for storms in Southeast Alaska

A row of post boxes in a deep snow bank
A row of mailboxes peek out from a snow berm on Tuesday, Jan. 11 in Juneau, Alaska. (Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

After a long weekend of damaging storms Gov. Mike Dunleavy has declared a disaster in some areas of Southeast Alaska. It includes the communities of Yakutat, Juneau, Haines and Skagway, and the boroughs where each city is located. 

That disaster declaration opens a pot of money for communities, federally recognized tribal organizations and some private nonprofits to apply for reimbursement for funds they spent combating the storms. 

Juneau Deputy City Manager Robert Barr said it also allows communities to formally ask for support from the state. 

“I don’t know that we will in this case but in the event of a major avalanche, a major flood, that kind of thing,” Barr said. “Then we may seek some actual one the grounds, physical, hands-on support in addition to tapping into the public assistance funding that’s available.”

A good example of that type of support is happening in Yakutat where the city issued a local disaster declaration and asked the state for help. The state sent in the National Guard who are responding to help the community clear snow and ice from public buildings and roads.

In Juneau, Barr said city leaders are still trying to figure out exactly what can be reimbursed. 

“We’ve hired contractors to help with trucking snow around and getting it out of places because it’s more than we can handle in-house. We’ve completely blown our overtime budget for, you know, our own staff,” Barr said.

The city has its own overtime budget, but Barr said costs that came from the storm may be eligible for reimbursement. And, they’ll also be looking at damage to public facilities – like the flooded Riverbend Elementary School. 

This disaster declaration doesn’t cover individual needs – though there could be some trickle-down. 

Juneau Emergency Programs Manager Tom Mattice said this disaster was declared because Yakutat reached out to the state for help. 

“And the state said ‘well honor that request and we’ll even broaden that by including other jurisdictions that may also need help even though they haven’t raised their hands yet,” Mattice said. “… But once again, even in Yakutat, they’re not shoveling people’s roofs off. It’s a public assistance where they’ll helping the government, they’re protecting critical infrastructure and key resources and they’re doing things they need to do to keep the community on its feet.”

Mattice said even though help is on the way, in some cases – it might take a while. Reimbursement for these types of expenses can take years to come through. 

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