Wyden Asks FEMA to Delay EvictingVernonia Residents from Trailers
Washington, D.C. - Oregon Senator Ron Wyden asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency today to give Vernonia families ravaged by a December 2007 flood another four months to finish fixing their homes before being evicted from their FEMA trailers.
Under FEMA regulations, there is an 18-month limit on the use of the trailers. The period began in December 2007 when the disaster declaration was signed and ends on June 8 of this year. However, the trailers did not arrive in Vernonia until April 2008, four months after the flood.
"Vernonia is a resilient community that has faced both natural and economic disasters over the last two years," Wyden said. "Vernonia has already lost 10 percent of its population and I believe the federal government should be doing everything within its power to keep this community and others like it together."
The December 2007 flood damaged three of Vernonia's school buildings, destroyed the wastewater treatment ponds and ruined more than 220 homes inside the city and an equal number outside the city limits.
"This would have crushed most towns, but the people of Vernonia have worked hard and come together to rebuild. They did not wait for federal or state assistance. They took charge of their destiny," Wyden said in the letter to Dennis Hunsinger, FEMA deputy administrator for Region X. "They took responsibility for their town. However, they do need more time to finish their rebuilding. That is why I am asking that the FEMA trailers remain in place past the June 8 deadline."
The full text of the letter follows:
May 7, 2009
Dennis Hunsinger, Ph. D
Deputy Administrator, Region X
Bothell, WA 98201
Dear Deputy Administrator Hunsinger:
It has come to my attention that citizens of Vernonia who are currently living in FEMA trailers while repairing or replacing homes damaged in the December 2007 flood have been given an eviction date of June 8, 2009. I am writing to ask for a four-month extension to allow them to finish fixing their homes.
As you know, Vernonia is an isolated town in the foothills of the coastal mountains of Oregon with 2,500 residents. In 2007, this town was devastated by its second major flood in 11 years. All three school buildings were damaged, the wastewater treatment ponds were destroyed, and more than 220 homes in Vernonia, and an equal number outside the city limits in the upper Nehalem River Valley, were substantially damaged and in need of hazard mitigation.
This would have crushed most towns, but the people of Vernonia have worked hard and come together to rebuild. They did not wait for federal or state assistance. They took charge of their destiny. They created a tight knit organization called Columbia County Flood Relief, to assist the hundreds of residents impacted by the flood, making sure they received the support and assistance that was available. This group also recruited volunteers, directing over 60,000 hours of volunteer time, and went after grant money, equipment and supply donations to start rebuilding Vernonia immediately. They took responsibility for their town. However, they do need more time to finish their rebuilding. That is why I am asking that the FEMA trailers remain in place past the June 8 deadline.
As you know, the clock started on the 18-month limit for the use of the FEMA trailers when the disaster declaration was signed by the President in December of 2007. However, because of difficulty in finding a site for the trailers and concerns with formaldehyde, residents were not allowed to move in to the trailers until late March 2008. Given this four-month delay before Vernonia residents could occupy the trailers and the fact that it was caused by factors beyond the residents' control. I am requesting they be given an extension of the time they are permitted to use the trailers.
Vernonia has already lost 10% of its population, and FEMA needs to do everything it can to make sure citizens can stay in Vernonia, and keep it a thriving town.
Thank you for your immediate attention to this matter. If you have any questions, please contact Fritz Graham in my Salem office at 503-589-4555.
United States Senator