Ore. Governor Asks Obama for Disaster Declaration

March 24, 2011

Oregon’s governor has asked President Barack Obama to issue a disaster declaration for a coastal county ravaged by a tsunami this month.

Gov. John Kitzhaber made the request for Curry County on the state’s southern coast after disaster teams estimated about $6.7 million in damage to the Port of Brookings-Harbor — a figure large enough to trigger federal assistance.

A presidential disaster declaration would open the door for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Administration.

The March 11 earthquake in Japan sent a tsunami surge into the port, buckling docks and sinking boats. The damage forced the port to close temporarily, choking off a key economic engine for an area already suffering from high unemployment.

Kitzhaber spokeswoman Christine Miles said the port re-opened Monday.

The federal assistance “will help us take a big step toward rebuilding the port and getting Oregonians back to work,” Kitzhaber said in a statement.

In his letter to Obama, Kitzhaber said a failure to quickly repair the port would cost the community $10 million in lost revenue from commercial and recreational fishing. The tsunami left 40 percent of docks destroyed or unusable, including one leased by the U.S. Coast Guard, Kitzhaber wrote.

The port also urgently needs to fix a sheet pile seawall required for the annual dredging of the channel, which is scheduled for June and must stay on track, Kitzhaber wrote.

The governor’s office said the Oregon Business Development Commission has identified a $40,000 grant for engineering expenses related to building new docks and a $500,000 grant to be used with future federal funding for other port reconstruction.

The agency also suspended payments on the port’s debt.

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