BONNERS FERRY — Boundary County Commissioners held a special meeting with city and county officials on Friday to discuss damage control in the midst of the county’s current state of emergency.
Boundary County Emergency Management Director Michael Meier, BCEM Incident Commander Bob Graham, Boundary County Sheriff David Kramer, City of Bonners Ferry Mayor David Sims, as well as other city and county officials, evaluated the city and county’s situation.
Officials prioritized the critical infrastructures that need to be cleared of snow by the Idaho Department of Corrections’ work crew, beginning with Boundary County schools, the Boundary County Restorium and Senior Center, followed by critical city and county infrastructures, including fire hydrants that have been buried under mounds of snow.
Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter included Boundary County in Idaho’s emergency declaration and granted the commissioners’ request for assistance from the DOC last week, sending two, 10-men crews to the county Thursday.
Graham said the DOC crews, working under the DOC’s Givens Hall Work Project, also assisted Boundary County back in 1996 and 1997 during the severe ice and snow storms and proved to be hard workers.
“These guys are able to participate in the Givens Hall program because they are on good behavior,” Graham said. “The last time they helped us, they were hard workers and they are working hard for us this time, too. This crew is also on the state fire crews and assist on wildlands fires.”
According to Meier, staff members of the Boundary County Restorium expressed their gratitude for the DOC crews, who cleared snow off of their facility on Friday.
“The ladies at the restorium said they couldn’t believe how polite and helpful these guy are,” Meier said.
Meier said the DOC crews have been working hard and seem to be in good spirits.
“We’re thankful for Governor Otter and General Richie, with the Idaho Office of Emergency Management, who made it possible for their help,” Meier said. “Without them, none of this would’ve happened.”
The crews were tentaitvely assigned to assist Boundary County tentatively until Tuesday, unless other duties are needed, and then the county has the option to extend that time.
Officials expressed concern regarding city and county residents who have suffered structural damage from severe snow and ice accumulation on their private property, and discussed what the city and county could and could not assist with.
“We’re unable to assist residents with snow removal on private property and we ask that residents do not call the courthouse for assistance,” Boundary County Commissioner Dan Dinning said. “In the event of an emergency, residents are asked to contact 911 for assistance.”
Meier issued a press release on Saturday asking area residents to document all property damages in the event that federal funding becomes available. Homeowners and business are asked to submit damage reports to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The purpose for tracking those damages is should Boundary County cross the threshold where the county would qualify for federal assistance in the form of low cost loans for those damages you would like to be on that list,” Meier said, in Saturday’s press release. “Please include location of damage, description of damage, approximate cost of damage or replacement. Photos are always a great thing to have. We also need contact information.”
Meier said federal assistance is not currently available, but that the county wants everyone to be prepared if it should happen. Federal funding became available to county residents during the 1996/1997 ice and snow storms, according to Dinning.
Meier and other officials also expressed concern that residents were being taken advantage of by businesses and individuals who are overcharging for snow removal.
“I’ve heard of people charging $100 per hour, per worker,” Meier said. “That’s usury. In a time of crisis, neighbors should be helping neighbors — not taking advantage of the elderly or people who are unable to do it themselves. We’re all neighbors here. Why would you take advantage of your neighbors like that?”
Meier said a group of men came to Bonners Ferry on Saturday who volunteered to shovel snow all day.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Meier said. “They don’t even live here. That’s cool stuff, right there.”