ST. GEORGE — The White House has approved disaster financial aid to Iron County for damage sustained to county roads in the Hamlin Valley and Modena areas from snow runoff in May.

Undated stock photo for illustrative purposes.| Photo by Baloncici/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

On Saturday, President Joe Biden declared a major disaster for five counties in Utah, including Iron, from runoff produced by melting snowpack and storms in May. The order authorizes federal financial assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to local, state and tribal governments to repair local infrastructure as well as public buildings and facilities.

Contrary to other media reports, the order did not give individuals, residences and businesses in Iron County the ability to apply for federal disaster aid.

Wade Mathews, spokesperson for the Utah Division of Emergency Management, said the confusion stems from the classification as “public aid,” which goes to government agencies, not individuals.

“When you hear public assistance, that’s what you think of , but this doesn’t include individual assistance,” Mathews said.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the government of Iron County can be reimbursed for up to 75% of the costs to repair infrastructures damaged by runoff flooding from between last May 1 to May 27.

George Colson, emergency manager for Iron County, said washed-out roads and damaged culverts in western Iron County from May incidents have already been repaired — but it was costly.

“We spent several hundred thousand in machine time, personnel time and materials that was not budgeted for,” Colson said. “This would really help.”

Colson noted much of the damage was from snowpack melt and in Iron County, at least, the disaster aid won’t be for any flood damage.

File photo of flood damage inside the basement of Iron County Sheriff’s Office and Iron County Jail facility. The Cedar City flooding in August is not included in the federal declaration of disaster aid for Iron County, Cedar City, Utah, Aug. 17, 2023 | Photo courtesy of Iron County Sheriff’s Office, St. George News / Cedar City News

Because the declaration only applies to May, federal, state and local officials said the flood damage in August in Cedar City that damaged the Iron County Sheriff’s Office and Jail as well as Cedar City Hospital is not included in the federal aid package.

Gov. Spencer Cox declared several counties in Utah as disaster areas from snowpack runoff and flooding in May and sought federal disaster declarations and aid for 11 counties. Iron County was among five chosen by the White House.

Mathews said the 11 counties were determined by the state government after both assessments on the ground in three Northern Utah counties as well as written assessments from other counties. Kane County, which saw a torrent of flooding in May that killed two hikers in Buckskin Gultch, was among the 11 counties the state applied for but was not included in the federal declaration.

Washington County, with an extensive flooding and runoff event in March, was not included in the state’s 11-county submission.

Mathews said the White House decision is only the beginning of the process and “gets the ball rolling,” and the governor can still appeal to request additional counties be added.

Back in Iron County, Colson said the aid package was a welcome surprise.

“Generally, they don’t do these kind of disaster declarations but FEMA decided to allow for spring runoff reimbursement and counties were invited to apply,” Colson said. “I submitted for Iron County. We got our facts and figures from road crews.”

FEMA spokesperson Lynn Kimbrough told St. George News that the White House analyzed the 11 state assessments, but like Mathews said it is only the beginning of the process.

Ultimately, she said, Utah officials will work with FEMA to determine where the federal aid dollars will be spent and funds can only apply to damage caused in May, not from any other time of the year.

“The declaration itself is so the state will work with the Iron County emergency manager to identify damages that occurred in that timeframe and declare damage,” she said.

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