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Travis County officials begin to survey fire damage, aid options

Wednesday, September 14, 2011 by Michael Kanin

Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe has applied to the Governor’s office for state disaster assistance in the wake of the Labor Day weekend fires. County officials are still waiting to hear from federal authorities about whether the region will be granted US disaster status.


That news came as Travis County Emergency Management Coordinator Pete Baldwin told the court that the county is eligible for funds derived from a Fire Management Assistance Grant. That program provides jurisdictions with financial mitigation for events such as the series of fires that struck the area a week ago. With it, Travis County will be reimbursed for 75 cents of every dollar they spent doing battle with the flames.


As of Tuesday morning, Baldwin was still unsure how much it cost the county to fight the fires. “We put the word out on Sunday to track resources, but as far as the total…we don’t have an estimate on that,” he told In Fact Daily. “This was such an untypical day; when you have six major fires break out in the same county…(it’s) a lot of resources. But how much? I don’t know.”


Baldwin told the court that a Presidential disaster declaration would bring more aid. Should President Barack Obama sign such an order, county residents would be eligible for low interest loans and “some grant funding.” The federal government would also extend help with such items as additional reimbursements for emergency response and debris removal.


He added that Travis County stands to benefit from the federal disaster declaration already issued for Bastrop County. “Because we are a contiguous county to a Presidentially declared disaster, all of our residents would be eligible for Small Business Administration loans,” he said.


Baldwin concluded, “We know that there will be some assistance in available low interest loans for individuals,” he said. “There may be some other avenues if we get declared in the Presidential.”


Precinct 2 Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt cited a Monday evening CAMPO discussion that detailed issues with roads being “chewed up pretty badly” in Travis and Bastrop counties. “We’re looking at moving regional monies around to areas of need,” she said.


Eckhardt asked Travis staff to speak with CAMPO about the most effective way to use federal funds. Baldwin noted that a Presidential decree could bring specific assistance to repair mangled infrastructure.


After something of a grim, butcher’s-bill discussion, Baldwin ended his presentation on a positive note. Despite the fact that the county did not issue a call for donations, he noted that “a lot of the private sector have really stepped up.”


“I think (Lake Travis Fire) Chief Linardos can tell you that they were well-stocked with Gatorade and water and other things,” he said.

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