Tonto Basin Loses

Feds reject disaster assistance

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Three months after flooding decimated homes in Tonto Basin and Gisela, residents have just learned they will not receive individual assistance from the federal government to rebuild.

Low-income Gila County residents had applied for assistance after the Jan. 18-22 storms — 26 to replace destroyed homes, 35 to repair major damages and 39 to fix minor damages.

However, the feds have now rejected Governor Jan Brewer’s request for individual assistance because damage estimates did not meet qualifying levels.

The residents are “not going to be forgot just because the federal government didn’t approve” individual assistance, said Lou Trammell, director of the Arizona Division of Emergency Management (ADEM).

In Tonto Basin, citizens with disaster-related needs or questions can still visit the State Individual Assistance Service Center in the Tonto Basin Kiwanis Community Center, 227 Old Highway 188. So far, 133 flood victims have visited the center.

It is open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday-Friday. For more information, call (928) 978-3141.

Matt Bollinger, division director of Gila County Emergency Management, said some residents have lost everything.

“It is tough, some people were devastated by this,” he said. “It is hard telling them week after week that there is no word yet.”

Last month, President Barack Obama did approve Brewer’s request for federal funds to cover the cost of debris removal and public infrastructure repair.

“While we are grateful that FEMA will assist with the recovery of public infrastructure and hazard mitigation,” Brewer said in a press release, “the state continues to count on donations and collaboration with local governments, residents and relief agencies to provide for survivors.”

The state is currently evaluating if it will appeal FEMA’s ruling.

In March, several groups formed to help victims and have so far replaced personal property, cleared debris and raised money.

The Disaster Housing Task Force is working to put residents who lost their homes into mobile homes. So far, three mobile homes have been requested.

Supervisor Shirley Dawson said built-up silt in Tonto Creek is forcing the creek to widen, flood its banks and eat up property.

“That creek has changed course and is in the process of washing property way,” she said. “Were is the mitigation?”

Trammell said because the creek is “a natural meandering stream” the Army Corps of Engineers “shall not touch it.”

“I don’t understand them saying they’re not responsible,” said Dawson. “We are dealing with a creek that is damned up.”

Trammell said either they need to figure out a way to fix the creek or remove residents.

Supervisor Tommie Martin said the only problem with relocating residents is there is no private land to move them onto.

“The Corps has managed not to take the blame,” she said. “It is time we held the Corps’ feet to the fire on this one.”

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