FARGO – All that’s needed is a signature.
One signature from President Barack Obama – and federal resources from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and other agencies can be activated for emergency assistance in the Red River Valley flood fight this week.
The declaration request was forwarded to the White House in February after Gov. Jack Dalrymple gave his approval. Six weeks later, local, state and federal officials in North Dakota are all looking to the White House for an answer today: What’s taking so long?
Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney told me this morning that without an approved disaster declaration from the president, federal resources, staff and equipment won’t be here to help local authorities tackle what’s shaping up to be among the highest floods on record for the Red River.
The river is expected to crest Sunday or Monday at a range of between 39 and 41 feet. The highest flood on record came in 2009 at a level of 40.84 feet.
In the past few hours, I’ve made calls to the three members of North Dakota’s congressional delegation, FEMA, U.S. Fish & Wildlife, Customs and Border Protection, the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services, and even the White House itself.
The only agency I’ve heard back from so far was Fish & Wildlife. Jim Kelton, a coordinator for emergency response with the service, said they have about 15 staff, eight airboats and 2 back-up airboats ready to descend on Fargo at local authorities’ request. They just need Obama to sign the disaster declaration, giving them the authority to help.
A White House spokeswoman indicated she would respond to my request for comment as soon as she was able.
Sen. Kent Conrad‘s and Rep. Rick Berg‘s offices said they were looking into the status of the disaster declaration, and Sen. John Hoeven‘s office released a statement urging the president to delay no further.
Hoeven said he met yesterday with FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate to press for the presidential disaster declaration. Hoeven’s office also followed up with calls to the FEMA headquarters and the FEMA Region VIII office in Denver to expedite the process.
Hoeven’s office said this morning they have a message out to the White House as well.
“The Red River has already passed flood stage, so it is critical that we have all the necessary federal resources in place to work with local and state responders,” Hoeven said in a statement. “I made that point clear in a call to the White House this morning, and also with Administrator Fugate earlier this week. We are already in the early stages of a possible flood event, and we need to do all we can to reassure the community that help is on the way.”
The situation could easily change today, but in the mean time, local and state officials are prepared to go it relatively alone – with only the U.S. Coast Guard coming in to provide federal back-up.
Any additional aid depends on the president’s actions.