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NH Legislation Speeds Disaster Aid to Cities and Towns

Across the globe, heat-trapping gases released by human activity are causing temperatures to rise and contributing to droughts, wildfires and extreme rainfall at a rate faster than scientists had predicted.

The New Hampshire state capitol.
(TNS) - Legislation Gov. Chris Sununu signed into law Friday is aimed at speeding aid to New Hampshire communities hit by natural disasters, such as the heavy rain and flooding that caused millions of dollars in damage in Cheshire and Sullivan counties last year.

N.H. Sen. Jay Kahn, D-Keene, said climate change is likely to make these types of calamities more common.

“We’ll be seeing more intense storms,” Kahn said Monday. “And hopefully what we’re building is some resilience, not just infrastructure as is but using the Federal Emergency Management Agency process to replace and improve.”

Across the globe, heat-trapping gases released by human activity are causing temperatures to rise and contributing to droughts, wildfires and extreme rainfall at a rate faster than scientists had predicted, according to NASA.

A preliminary estimate indicated about $6 million in damage was caused about a year ago by torrential rains hitting the Monadnock Region, damaging key roadways and other infrastructure, Kahn said. He said Acworth was hit particularly hard. Private property damage didn’t reach the FEMA threshold for federal assistance.

The preliminary damage estimate was from initial town assessments to ensure the public property loss was sufficient for a presidential disaster declaration, Kahn said, adding that this number is expected to grow significantly as plans are drawn up for repair and replacement work.

Two separate presidential disaster declarations were designated in parts of the Monadnock Region, one for July 17 through 18, 2021, and another for July 29 through Aug. 2.

Such declarations clear the way for federal coverage of 75 percent of costs incurred by state and local government and nonprofits as a result of the disaster.

Senate Bill 402, on which Kahn was the prime sponsor, will allow local communities to apply to the state for half of the required 25 percent matching funds, or 12.5 percent.

The legislation went into effect immediately with Sununu’s signature and applies to all federally declared disasters going back to July 1, 2021.

The state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Committee, the governor and the Executive Council will decide whether to award the aid on a case-by-case basis.

But by setting up an established process for seeking this money, the bill will speed assistance for local communities that would have difficulty paying for the 25 percent match without help, Kahn said.

“This is a big step forward in ensuring towns have a process and a route for reimbursement of disaster-relief assistance,” Kahn said.

He also co-sponsored Senate Bill 409, which will allow the state to provide temporary, no-interest loans to communities covered under a state-of-emergency declaration by the governor. Sununu signed that bill on June 17, and it went into effect immediately.

Previous state law required a presidential disaster area declaration for such loans.

According to the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Hinsdale, Jaffrey, Richmond, Troy and Winchester all applied for funds from only the first presidential disaster declaration.

In response to the storm at the end of July, Walpole, Acworth, Charlestown, Goshen, Langdon, Lempster, Newport, Sunapee, Unity and Washington applied for funds, FEMA said. Alstead, Fitzwilliam, Keene, Marlborough, Marlow, Roxbury, and Swanzey submitted applications for both disasters.

Swanzey Town Administrator Michael T. Branley said his town had $100,000 in damage, arising mostly from damaged roads, and has yet to receive any money from FEMA.

“It’s a slow process,” he said. “For us, it’s not the end of the world, but for a town like Acworth or Alstead, some of those smaller towns that got hit really hard, they had millions of dollars of damage in a community that has a couple-million-dollar budget.

“I don’t know how they would front that expense, so I could see how this legislation could be hugely beneficial to them.”

©2022 The Keene Sentinel (Keene, N.H.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.