Oklahoma is still waiting for the federal government to approve disaster aid that would reimburse local governments and public utilities for at least some of their expenses from an early season ice storm that struck the state beginning on Oct. 26.
Gov. Kevin Stitt’s office announced on Nov. 13 that he was requesting a Major Disaster Declaration from the federal government for 13 counties in Oklahoma: Caddo, Canadian, Cleveland, Dewey, Grady, Kingfisher, Kiowa, Logan, Noble, Oklahoma, Payne, Pottawatomie, and Roger Mills
Local, county and state officials have made their required declarations and completed preliminary damage assessments.
The declaration is just awaiting Pres. Donald Trump’s signature, Payne County and City of Stillwater emergency management officials said.
Payne County Emergency Manager Jeff Kuhn has told the Payne County commissioners he anticipates that the president will approve the declaration due to the widespread loss of power across a large portion of the state.
The unusual October storm produced up to two inches of ice in some areas and left hundred of thousands of Oklahomans without power, the governor’s office said. It caused millions of dollars in damages for local and tribal governments.
Stitt’s office said the storm is going to cost an estimated $27 million across the state for debris removal and other damages.
Payne County has reached its threshold to qualify for federal assistance, the county’s emergency managers said. Based on population, the county needed to document more than $292,000 in damages to qualify.
Troy Choplin, Deputy Emergency Manager for Payne County said Stillwater alone contributed almost enough to hit that mark.
The city makes up about 50,000 of the county’s estimated 82,000 residents and it’s utility system was hit hard by the storm.
Stillwater Emergency Management Director Rob Hill confirmed that Stillwater suffered an estimated $250,000 in damages, including about $75,000 in overtime just for its response to the event.
Emergency responders and electric utility workers across the state worked around the clock in miserably cold and rainy conditions to ensure people were safe and to restore power as quickly as possible.
Cushing and Yale, which also provide electric service to their residents, took significant damage, as did OG&E, which provides electric service to several municipalities in the county.
Electric cooperatives like Indian Electric Cooperative, which serves the far eastern side of the county and Central Electrical Cooperative, which serves most of the remaining rural area were also impacted.
Choplin praised the co-ops for their response, saying they did amazing work restoring power under trying circumstances in remote areas.
“They had miles and miles and miles of lines that they had to deal with,” he said.
Although emergency managers believe public assistance is coming, there will not be individual aid for Oklahoma residents who suffered property damage in the storm.
Unlike damage from the May 2019 floods that struck the area, damage from this ice storm will probably be covered by the owner’s property insurance, Kuhn and Hill said. Even if individual assistance were available, it would have to go through the insurance company’s claims process first.
Debris clean up is one of the biggest issues facing individuals and governments.
Payne County has entered into an agreement with the town of Glencoe to create a debris pile to dispose of trees and limbs destroyed in the storm.
Residents who need to get rid of limbs can drop them off at the county’s Environmental Enforcement facility located at the Payne County Fairgrounds, Kuhn said. They should call 405-334-3278 first to make sure someone is there.
Stillwater residents will just need to be patient.
There is not currently a drop site for city residents and storm debris is not accepted at the City of Stillwater’s Convenience Collection Center.
The city just doesn’t have the manpower to staff a drop off site and run extra routes to collect the debris piled up in neighborhoods, Hill said. And the collection center would quickly become overwhelmed it it were asked to accept storm debris.
Residents have been asked to to cut limbs to no more than 10 feet in length and stack them neatly at the curb.
Hill said it could take up to 90 days for city crews to haul off all the storm debris.
They have already hauled 771 tons of debris to date and are estimating they will have handled 3,000-4,000 tons by the time clean up is finished, he said.
Correspondent Mark A. Moore contributed to this story.