After a Federal Disaster Declaration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) issues Project Worksheets to delineate disaster remediation costs allowable for reimbursement. Fallon County has multiple worksheets covering the tornado damage, including one for dewatering and one for the lake clean-up. Project Worksheet 2 was specifically developed to cover the clean-up of the debris within Baker Lake, but it was developed so that the actual extent of the damage could be determined or revisited after dewatering (Project Worksheet 1) was complete.
In its issuance of Project Worksheet 02 in the fall of 2016, FEMA acknowledged that in order to restore the Lake as a recreational facility, the visible debris, and the debris embedded in the mud, must be removed. FEMA further indicated in Project Worksheet 2 that the location of all the debris, and extent of it, was unknown at that time due to the murky water in the deeper parts, but visually evident that at least 26 acres had debris floating on the surface, setting on the Lake bottom, and embedded in the mud in the bottom.
To follow up on those conclusions, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE), and Montana Disaster and Emergency Services (MTDES) personnel were on site in Baker on Wednesday, July 19. The purpose of the visit was to view the extent of the debris laying on the surface of and embedded in the surface of Baker Lake and to develop consensus on the actual extent of the debris as deposited by the tornado and whether it did, in fact, exceed the 26 acres that was readily obvious last fall and prior to the dewatering.
County officials and the project engineers with Brosz Engineering met with the agency personnel and expressed that the damage did exceed that initial scope of a 26-acre debris field with l’ foot of mud to remove embedded material. Officials articulated that additional cleanup would be necessary to remove the tornado debris and restore the lake to pre-disaster condition. FEMA officials tentatively agreed to an increase based on the discussions, visual inspection, and other data presented. While formal agreement on the change to the final scope is under consideration, FEMA officials have requested additional picture documentation of debris with GPS coordinates, which is being gathered as areas of the Lake continue to dry.
Because of weather/time constraints, Fallon County intends to move forward with the bid advertising and bid opening on the clean-up in anticipation of approval by FEMA. In addition to FEMA approval, when final costs are known, approval by the State of Montana for its financial participation will also be necessary.
As it stands now, if FEMA gives final approval, the next phase of the project will proceed to take the debris, including approximately 1 foot of mud to remove embedded debris, from the northern half of the lake (approx. 45 acres vs 26 acres). In addition, around the southern half of the Lake, the debris including an average of 1’ of mud to remove embedded debris, will be removed along the shoreline where it is publicly owned. During completion of the disaster clean-up, the County will evaluate options for further improvements and, assuming acceptable options exist, be prepared for immediate implementation of those improvements.
Fallon County humbly asks for the public’s patience and understanding while these project phases are carried out. The Lake remains closed to the public indefinitely.