A bridge near Sapello in San Miguel County as the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire burns on April 23, 2022. (Photo by Patrick Lohmann / Source NM)
The federal government promised over a year ago to pay for all the damage the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire and subsequent disasters like flooding did to counties in northern New Mexico.
Local officials who are still trying to start repair work haven’t seen much of that disaster aid yet. Some of the money is sitting at the state level.
Members of New Mexico’s federal delegation are urging New Mexico to quickly get money to affected areas.
They’re focused on funds that the Federal Emergency Management Agency delivered a month ago. On July 31, FEMA sent $6.6 million to the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management so it can reimburse San Miguel County for road and bridge repairs.
Where’s the money coming from?
Through FEMA’s Public Assistance program, local governments can get fully reimbursed for repair work done following the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire, since it was caused by the U.S. Forest Service. This program doesn’t apply to individuals.
That hasn’t happened.
It’s not possible to reimburse San Miguel County yet because those road and bridge repairs haven’t started, said DHSEM spokesperson David Lienemann.
Lienemann said once this repair work is completed and paperwork is reviewed, the state agency will reimburse the county.
San Miguel County Manager Joy Ansley said officials hope to start repair projects funded by a state loan in about the next month or so, but she doesn’t know when they’ll be completed.
She said the county has to first design the repair projects, hire a contractor and finalize paperwork before getting started. The county created a project manager position to oversee it all, she added, approved in May and filled in late July.
“It’s going to be a process that will take longer than a couple weeks to accomplish,” Ansley said via email.
It’s been over a year since President Joe Biden committed to fully paying for all the public damage costs local governments accrued.
Since then, FEMA has sent over $64 million in Public Assistance funds to New Mexico.
Lienemann said the state’s emergency management agency has reimbursed $12.1 million to pay back officials for disaster recovery work.
U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich said the most recently delivered FEMA funds for San Miguel County will bring victims one step closer to being made whole again. He said New Mexico needs to make sure this relief gets to the community as soon as possible.
“I will not stop fighting until all New Mexicans impacted by the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire are made whole again, and this investment takes us one step closer to getting this done,” Heinrich said.
U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján said the $6.6 million is a critical investment, and he’s proud it will go toward reimbursing the county for repair work.
“From New Mexicans’ livelihoods, small businesses, and the local roads connecting them, the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire and the flooding that followed devastated San Miguel County,” he said.
Knowing that the federal process would take a while to actually deliver disaster aid dollars, New Mexico lawmakers in February set aside $100 million in state loans for public entities.
It took months for anyone to get that money.
San Miguel County has gotten $24 million altogether in state loans to use for repair work while waiting for federal dollars to come down, according to Department of Finance and Administration data.
That includes a loan to the county for the $6.6 million. The New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration executed that loan on July 25, just days before the state actually got the federal funds from FEMA.
A spokesperson from Heinrich’s office said the state is still obligated to deliver the federal funds to the affected counties, even if the loans came down in the meantime.
When San Miguel County gets the federal funds, it has a month to pay back the loans.
Digging into the $64M
A breakdown of the $64.3 million FEMA has delivered and what it’s supposed to be used for, according to a FEMA news release:
- $21.3 million for public utilities
- Almost $16.7 million for debris removal
- $13.8 million for emergency protective measures
- $9.6 million for road and bridge repair
- $2.6 million for management
- $154,000 for public buildings and equipment
- Almost $87,000 for parks and recreational facilities
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