(Update) HELENA – Lewis and Clark County leaders say, after Friday, they’ll no longer be able to provide free sandbags for county residents affected by flooding.
County Commissioner Susan Good Geise said the sandbag distribution at the fairgrounds will end at 5 p.m. Friday. She said county leaders have talked to local businesses, to ensure that they will have enough sandbags available for purchase to meet residents’ needs.
Geise said, as of Thursday, the county had handed out more than 70,000 sandbags. She said each one costs the county about a dollar for the bag, the sand and the employee time.
Geise said the state or federal government can reimburse some of the county’s costs, but only for protecting schools, roads and other public infrastructure. She said the cost of sandbags for private property will have to come out of the general fund, from an amount set aside for emergencies.
“Right now, we’re dealing with floods, but we’re pretty darn sure that a couple of months from now, we’re going to be looking at fires,” she said. “Those also get to be very expensive, and so we’re going to need to make sure that we’re good stewards of the money.”
The county commission declared a flooding emergency last week. That means they could raise additional money through an emergency levy on county residents, but that money can also only go toward public infrastructure costs.
Geise said the county will continue providing sandbags if they are needed to protect infrastructure like Rossiter School. They are also spending about $2,500 a day for two large pumps that are directing water from the Rossiter area into a drain system leading to Lake Helena.
Lewis and Clark County continues to address initial floodwater management in the Helena Valley, as well as public infrastructure and safety issues.
The county will also continue to provide sand and sandbags until 5 p.m., Friday, May 11, to those affected by flooding in the Helena Valley. After Friday, public resources will be used to address flooding effects on public property.
County officials have asked local retailers to consider stocking sand and sandbags for individual purchase after Friday.
The county has given away close to 61,000 sandbags since flooding began last week. According to county records, 85,500 sandbags were distributed during the 2011 floods, and the county is on track to far exceed that number this year,
County employees will continue to pump water near Rossiter Elementary School on Sierra Road and clear ditches and culverts of debris to reduce the impact of flood waters as much as possible.
For flood and other emergency updates, please go to their Facebook page.