By Kevin Thranow
The regular meeting of the Todd County Commissioners was held last Wednesday, April 3, at 10:00 a.m. at the Todd County Building.
About a dozen local residents, mostly farmers and ranchers, attended the meeting to share reports of damaged roads, get updates on what’s being done by the county to remedy the situation, and relate the work they’ve done to help in the effort - not just as a necessity for their operations but also to help out neighbors who may not have the equipment or means to shore up country roads temporarily but who depend on those roads to access food and other supplies.
Todd County Highway Superintendent Hugh Storms said that the battle to repair roads is moving from washout to washout, using all of the equipment, personnel, and resources available. Ideally, state and/or federal disaster funds may help to restore some of the county’s “out-of-pocket” expenses related to the storm, but the county will still be responsible for at least 25 percent of the damage outlay. Government aid will only cover a maximum of 75 percent of costs.
Storms expressed his frustration about having to replace warning flags and road barricades due to theft and vandalism, which are not only a waste of time, effort, and funds, but also pose risks to public safety.
He said that several roads with major damage, including the Klein School and Lakeview roads, are now considered “passable,” but perhaps still best approached with a full-size four-wheel drive or farm vehicle.
Todd County Emergency Management Director Kara Walkling was also on hand to help everyone understand the frequently arcane process of applying for government emergency aid. She pointed out that the state of South Dakota had not yet issued a request for Presidential Disaster Assistance which could bring in more relief funds. Gov. Noem is waiting for the flooding to subside in order to determine a complete damage estimate, rather than filing an interim request for aid and coming up short.
Walkling also advised that each individual county is required to reach a certain dollar amount threshold before they can submit a damage report to the state, and that the state, in turn, must meet its threshold before it can request federal aid. Each step along the way can take up to 30 days for approval, and approval by FEMA is never guaranteed.
Walkling, Storms, and the commissioners encouraged everyone present at the meeting to keep track of personal expenses in their repair efforts and to document damage by taking lots of photos and submitting them to the county. Commissioner Greg Grimshaw expressed his hope that the county would be able to offer some compensation to individuals who generously jumped in to help with the clean-up and repair work.
Going forward, everyone in attendance agreed that regular road and culvert maintenance needs to improve in order to mitigate damage from future storms, but how to pay for such activities is an ongoing struggle for Todd County and its limited budget. Even any disaster aid that might come in from state and federal sources for the recent storm would not pay for upgrades or routine maintenance - only for actual damages. Walkling noted that there are Hazard Mitigation Funds that might be available for upgrades to roads deemed necessary for flood abatement, however, the requirements for qualification are somewhat daunting, including engineering reports and grant proposals.
The next meeting of the Todd County Commissioners is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, April 17, at the Todd County Building.