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Pennington County commissioners are pursuing federal disaster aid for expenses related to recent flooding and are pondering a long-term fix for a rural road that was wiped out by a landslide.

During a Tuesday meeting at the county’s Administration Building, the commissioners approved a disaster declaration after hearing a report from the county’s emergency management director, Dustin Willett.

He compiled preliminary estimates of damage suffered to infrastructure owned by the county, cities in the county, and other local taxing entities during flooding that happened May 21 through June 7. The early estimates added up to $725,000, well above the minimum $381,583.44 needed to declare a disaster and seek federal financial aid.

“This is to see if we meet the indicator, which we clearly do,” Willett said of the preliminary estimates. “It doesn’t tie us into any of those specific numbers.”

The county’s disaster declaration will now go to Gov. Kristi Noem’s administration, which will compile it with reports from other counties and consider requesting aid from the federal government.

“If a disaster is declared at the presidential level,” Willett said, “and the state and FEMA specialists come in to work with us, then all those specific project costs and total project costs really get down into the nuts-and-bolts and nitty-gritty, and there’s no problem with costs coming in higher than the preliminary damage estimate.”

A previous disaster declaration by the county resulting from an extreme snowfall event in March has been federally approved, and county officials are scheduled to meet with representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in July to begin reviewing those costs and damage.

Meanwhile, county officials are brainstorming ways to deal with a washed-out section of Wilsey Road, a gravel road in the rural northeastern part of the county.

The road runs alongside the Cheyenne River, which swelled during the recent flooding and caused a section of the road to fall away during a landslide. The collapsed section of the road fell an estimated 25 to 30 feet.

County workers have since built a temporary bypass a little farther up the bank to serve the five or six households located north of the collapsed road section.

Tuesday, County Highway Superintendent Joseph Miller said the most likely long-term fix is a roughly 2-mile reroute of the affected road section that would take it about 100 feet higher in elevation and farther away from the riverbank.

Based on similar projects in the past, Miller said the reroute could cost $25 per foot, which would work out to $264,000. But that cost could be affected by the potential need to hire a contractor, because Miller said the county lacks the equipment and manpower for the kind of work the project would require.

“Right now there’s temporary access, so it doesn’t need to be done right now or even this year,” Miller said of the long-term fix. “But something does need to be done.”

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Contact Seth Tupper at seth.tupper@rapidcityjournal.com

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