By Lance Mihm
President George W. Bush on Tuesday declared major disaster areas in Mercer, Auglaize and 57 other Ohio counties hit hard by the winter storms in late December and January.
The declaration will allow government entities, such as cities, villages, townships and county agencies, to recover 75 percent of damage costs from the storms.
Meetings are being held next week in both counties to determine what costs will be submitted for federal funding.
Auglaize County emergency management agency Director Dennis Mallory has scheduled a briefing with all local government officials for 1 p.m. Feb. 23, while Mercer County's meeting will be at 5 p.m. that same day.
"They will be much the same (as earlier meetings on costs), except we will be working with some real numbers instead of estimates," Mallory said. Mallory said the declaration was ordered for storm damage from Dec. 22 through Feb. 1 by the president, a timeline which could make a huge difference in claims.
"When we had the first meeting, we were told the declaration was for the ice storm only," he said. "But according to all the paperwork we are receiving from the state, they are saying we can go back to Dec. 22. That would cover the snow storm from the week before. That could make the numbers go up even more locally."
Damage estimates are currently at about $1.5 million in Auglaize County and $1.2 million in Mercer County. Those numbers also could go up if river cleanup is allowed to be included in the amounts.
"We still have some questions that we need to ask," Mallory said.
There was not enough residential property damage in either county to allow for individual assistance to private property owners. About 50 homes in Auglaize and Mercer counties were damaged, including two mobile homes that were completely destroyed, officials reported.
The state estimates the total damage for the storms to be about $268.5 million: half the damage was to public infrastructure, such as bridges, roads and rural electrical cooperatives, and half for insured losses.