Steve Bradford (left) and Mark Kissel, both vice presidents of the Riverside Condominiums Homeowners Association, discuss repairs to two of the complex’s buildings on Aug. 9 as a bulldozer places rock fill under a corner of one building exposed by erosion during record flooding of the Mendenhall River on Aug. 5. Repairs to both buildings ultimately were successful. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)

Steve Bradford (left) and Mark Kissel, both vice presidents of the Riverside Condominiums Homeowners Association, discuss repairs to two of the complex’s buildings on Aug. 9 as a bulldozer places rock fill under a corner of one building exposed by erosion during record flooding of the Mendenhall River on Aug. 5. Repairs to both buildings ultimately were successful. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)

Bill increasing state disaster aid for individuals to $50K, up from $21K, introduced by Kiehl

Legislation also expands eligibility for condos as part of remedies sought after Suicide Basin flood

This story has been updated to clarify a quote by CBJ Engineering and Public Works Director Denise Koch.

Victims of disasters such as last year’s record flooding of Suicide Basin will qualify for more than twice as much state aid — initially $50,000 instead of the current $21,000 limit — and increase eligibility for people living in multi-residential buildings such as condominiums under a bill introduced Thursday by state Sen. Jesse Kiehl, a Juneau Democrat.

An initial announcement about the bill was made during an updated overview of local recovery and future prevention efforts presented to Juneau Assembly members on Monday night. Among other measures being taken by local officials are improving storm drain overflows that resulted in significant residential flooding last year, and continuing to seek state and federal funds for purposes such as streambank protection and new geolocated mapping of the Mendenhall River area.

Kiehl’s proposal, Senate Bill 236, alters maximum state disaster aid to $50,000 for incidents not classified as a major federal disaster. Last year’s flooding along the Mendenhall River damaged or destroyed dozens of homes, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency denied a disaster relief request and many residents said the $21,000 in state assistance barely made a dent in their total repair costs.

“I think it is kind of the minimum it takes to get people partway back on their feet,” Kiehl said in an interview Thursday. “I mean the state can’t and will never be able to afford to make people completely whole after a disaster. But this level of funding can really make a difference. And while the $21,000 is never unwelcome, it’s just not enough to make a dent.”

The initial $50,000 maximum will increase “some years from now” to match inflation adjustments relative to federal assistance, based on a minimum threshold for that program, Kiehl said.

Kiehl said he chose $50,000 as the initial new maximum because “this is state disaster assistance, this isn’t an insurance program.”

“A lot of these risks that happen with disasters are things you can’t get insurance to cover,” he said. “It just doesn’t exist. And so people who can get insurance should always continue to buy it. But this can help somebody start to get back on their feet.”

State Division of Homeland Security officials are putting together an estimate of how much the additional assistance would cost over a range of low-disaster and high-disaster years, Kiehl said. The bill also continues a provision stating that when a federal disaster is declared state aid can be allocated “in an amount whose total of federal and state shares does not exceed the maximum amount authorized by (federal law) for grants payable to individuals and families.”

A key clause of the expands the circumstances for people in condominiums and similar shared housing, Kiehl said.

“If you’re in a condo and you have to shore up the foundation or armor the river bank that’s the association’s obligation, not yours, even though they (bill) you for your share of it,” he said. “And so you can’t use the state disaster assistance toward that. The (state aid), you can use it for your furniture, but you can’t use it for your condo assessment to help shore up the foundation of the building.”

“So what this bill does — and it’s really important — is if your condo association has damage from the disaster you can use your same share of the disaster money — you don’t get more than anybody else — to pay your share of the condo associations costs from the disaster.”

At the municipal level, the City and Borough of Juneau is working with numerous state and federal agencies to obtain funds, technical assistance and expert prevention advice, said Denise Koch, CBJ’s director of engineering and public works, during a presentation Monday to Assembly members meeting as the Committee of the Whole.

An essential part of those remedies is installing eight storm drains in neighborhood areas along the Mendenhall River where they are currently lacking, she said. While erosion of the riverbank resulted in some of the most noticeable damage — and the destruction of at least two homes that partially collapsed into the river — Koch said drainage problems also had a widespread effect.

“I’m mentioning it because it is something that we’ve heard from the public that they are concerned about,” she said. “And we, of course, don’t know the nature of when we’ll have another glacial outburst flood (and) how high that glacial outburst flood would be. So we had public comment that asks us to really talk more about storm drains.”

Koch said other efforts by CBJ officials include:

• Applying for state reimbursement of emergency protection projects.

• A $5.5 million request to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for a four-year project to “build flood resistance and improve fish habitat.”

• Seeking emergency streambank and shoreline protection funds, as well as for a mapping study, from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, with the city providing matching funds.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

A map shows where local officials are planning to install storm drains to help protect neighborhoods in the event of future flooding from the Mendenhall River. (City and Borough of Juneau)

A map shows where local officials are planning to install storm drains to help protect neighborhoods in the event of future flooding from the Mendenhall River. (City and Borough of Juneau)

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