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Branstad declares Johnson County a disaster county

BY KATIE HEINE | FEBRUARY 07, 2011 7:10 AM

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Last week’s snow storm was a disaster for Iowa City — and Gov. Terry Branstad agrees.

In response to the estimated foot of snow that fell last week, Branstad issued a disaster emergency proclamation for Johnson County.

Under the proclamation, Johnson County will be eligible for state resources to aid in the aftermath of the severe weather.

“The nature of the storm had a major impact on our government resources,” said Johnson County Supervisor Terrence Neuzil.

The disaster proclamation would potentially allow Johnson County to access emergency funds from the state of Iowa.

While officials don’t know exactly how much money they will receive or what expenses will be covered, they said the county spent a generous amount of money on manpower, equipment, salt, and sand.

Though the specifics are yet to be determined, it is likely Johnson County will benefit from the proclamation by using state funds to pay for previous and future snow removal.

The state declaration — the second step toward federal reimbursement — allows the county to use state resources such as the Department of Transportation. For example, the department’s large “blowers” are helping clear snow drifts, said Dave Wilson, coordinator of the Johnson County Emergency Management Agency.

Though crews have made progress with cleaning up, officials said there’s still a long way to go.

It took workers several days to get through 900 miles of roads. While plows have now touched most county roads, Neuzil said there are still several more weeks of work to do.

Most of the snow was removed from downtown Iowa City on Friday and Saturday, said Rick Fosse, the director of Iowa City Public Works, but there is still an ample amount of snow piled along curbs and in roads that needs to be moved.

“Anyone that drives around our community knows that our curbs are still covered in 6 feet of snow,” Neuzil said.

Private truckers are being paid by the city to haul snow out of the area, Fosse said. But the potential funds from the proclamation would help alleviate some of the costs. Johnson County officials said the cost-to-date of cleanup is not yet known, but officials hope the state funding will offset overtime pay used last week.

Though officials called this snowfall significant, Johnson County is no stranger to this type of aid. Supervisor Rod Sullivan said the area receives this type of funding twice a year on average — usually for weather-related reasons, with the most memorable instance being the flood of 2008.

Local and county governments will begin working today to start the paperwork, track the money spent, and submit the number to state officials.

Johnson County was one of eight eastern Iowa counties to be issued a disaster emergency proclamation. Cedar, Delaware, Dubuque, Jackson, Jones, Lee, and Scott Counties were also issued a disaster emergency proclamation and will potentially receive state funding.

Nearly a week after the blizzard, Fosse said the aid would still be beneficial.

“We’re struggling to keep up,” he said.


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