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County amends disaster declaration

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Roswell-Chaves County Emergency Manager Karen Sanders talks Thursday about the process of receiving emergency aid following last week’s tornado and windstorm. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

The Chaves County Board of Commissioners as a group passed an amended disaster declaration during a Thursday morning meeting, with the area’s emergency manager telling commissioners that county and state units are starting the work to document the amount of damages and costs related to last week’s tornado and windstorms in Chaves County.

On March 14, Commission Chairman WIll Cavin signed a resolution declaring a disaster for Chaves County following a tornado in the Dexter, Hagerman and Lake Arthur areas March 12 and the sustained high winds and powerful gusts that caused damage throughout a large part of Chaves County the following day. The Roswell City Council also made a disaster declaration on March 14.

The commissioners’ action not only gave official authorization for the county resolution but also added two additional agencies to be covered in the resolution resulting from what emergency management officials consider to be one weather event.

The original resolution specifically named the cities in Chaves County as well as the Central Valley Electric Cooperative as public-serving entities that have sustained damage or expended resources, equipment and overtime hours for personnel during the storms. The amended document added the Lea County Electric Cooperative and the Penasco Valley Telephone Cooperative.

“We just want to include on those declarations any entity that might want to apply for assistance,” said Karen Sanders, the Roswell-Chaves County Emergency Manager. “It does not obligate them, but if we do not list them on there, they are not eligible to apply.”

She explained that public entities, but not private individuals or businesses, could be eligible for state reimbursement of 75 percent of damages, if the amount of losses and overtime or equipment and resources expended are found to have been $248,138 or more. The area will not be eligible for the higher federal reimbursement of 87.5 percent unless the governor seeks to declare a statewide or regional disaster with costs and damages at about $4 million, a determination that cannot be made until all counties turn in their reports in the coming weeks.

Sanders told commissioners that state teams had already made a visit to the Dexter area for initial assessments of damages and are expected to make several more visits in the future to review reports and documentation. The state also considers other factors, in addition to the monetary effects, Sanders said, such as how many other disasters have occurred in the region in recent times.

Cavin noted that local dairies experienced losses of cows and other damages, but Sanders said that is not covered by state assistance. But she said her office is working with dairies to see if they might be eligible for aid or reimbursement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture or other agencies.

“Would it be very fair to say that there are many avenues for potential recovery for individuals, but it all depends on the job that we do in documenting the damages?” Commissioner Robert Corn asked Sanders, with her replying that was correct.

According to information shared at the meeting, known county damages occurred to a sheriff’s patrol car that was struck during the storm and to a volunteer fire department truck. Expenses included equipment used and overtime by sheriff’s officers, the road department, the New Mexico Department of Transportation and the electric and telephone cooperatives as they worked to clear debris, block roads, assist traffic, help citizens, restore power and water or otherwise respond to storm effects. The hours put in by volunteer fire department officers can be applied to the county’s match for the reimbursement program, Sanders said.

County Manager Stanton Riggs said he and others will meet next week to begin to compile the numbers from all the various units in the area.

At a separate Thursday meeting, the city of Roswell is estimating that damage to the roofs and exterior of about five structures at the Roswell International Air Center total at least $115,000.

“With that said, the overall take on it is that we fared pretty well,” said Air Center Director Scott Stark. “The damages are several of them, but they are fairly minor.”

City of Roswell Project Manager Kevin Dillon said that insurance claims have been filed.

The city is also working with Sceye Inc. to amend the lease it has at the air center since the company’s custom-built hangar and airship were ruined and it cannot operate as usual for the time being.

City Manager Joe Neeb also indicated that the city will include in its list of storm-related expenses the operations of landfills in the area, and it’s believed the city alone will have at least $250,000 in losses and costs.

Riggs, in the commissioners’ meeting, said that it is the third or fourth natural disaster experienced in the area in the last 25 years.

“We have trained … and we have had some real-life experiences. … And I think, all in all, it was much, much appreciated and a good effort,” he said. “And we are very, very fortunate we had no fatalities as a result of that.”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.