Placer disaster plan would better position Tahoe for FEMA funds | SierraSun.com

Placer disaster plan would better position Tahoe for FEMA funds

Margaret Moran
mmoran@sierrasun.com

A crew of firefighters cuts a line behind a home engulfed by flames on Washoe Way during the August 2007 Washoe Fire, which destroyed six structures on Tahoe's West Shore.

TAHOE CITY, Calif. — Severe natural occurrences such as heavy snow, drought, wildfire and earthquakes are among the potential disasters that could impact Lake Tahoe and the greater Placer County area.

This is according to the 2015 Placer County Local Hazard Mitigation Plan Update, which is being finalized for approval later this year by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The plan identifies specific hazards and lists potential mitigation measures in an effort to reduce or eliminate future losses of life and property if a disaster should strike across Placer County, which includes portions of the North and West shores of Lake Tahoe, among other unincorporated areas locally.

"Historically, the emergency management programs focused on preparedness, response and recovery, and mitigation really hadn't been emphasized," said Jeanine Foster, co-owner of Foster Morrison Consulting, the firm hired to prepare the county's 2015 update. " … (But) the cost of responding and recovering from disasters is just skyrocketing."

Annually, taxpayers nationwide pay billions of dollars to help communities, organizations, businesses and individuals recover from disaster, according to Placer County.

In an effort to reduce that expense, the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000 requires local jurisdictions to have a FEMA-approved Local Hazard Mitigation Plan in order to remain qualified for certain federal funding assistance.

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"The intent behind mitigation is to break the disaster cycle," Foster said at a meeting in Tahoe City last Thursday designed to gain public feedback on the plan. "Historically, you build by water, a storm or a flood comes in and takes you out, and people put the house back the same way. Over time, it's cost the federal government, state government and individuals more and more money putting these things back the same way, so mitigation is what you can do to build better, to become more disaster resistant. (This way) you're not throwing money after the same thing over and over."

Some mitigation actions mentioned in the 2015 county plan include drought public education and outreach, elevating structures in floodplains, seismic upgrades and creating fuel breaks in the event of wildfires.

"No one is on the hook to implement anything," Foster explained after Thursday's meeting. "It really depends on priorities and funding, but if (a) project isn't in this plan, FEMA will not fund it. … (Therefore) if you don't include a project, you're kind of at risk."

Beyond helping to ensure eligibility for mitigation funds, the creation and approval of a Local Hazard Mitigation Plan allows jurisdictions to remain eligible for pre- and post- disaster funds from FEMA.

With last week's Tahoe City meeting and duplicate Auburn meeting serving as the final public meetings in the update's approval process, the county's draft plan will be submitted to the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services next month for review and input before being sent to FEMA for provisional approval, Foster said.

The governing board for each jurisdiction that participated in the plan — in this case, 22, including the Truckee and North Tahoe fire protection districts, Tahoe City and North Tahoe public utility districts, and the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District, among others — needs to adopt the plan before it's officially approved.

The cost to prepare the plan update is $200,000, an expense covered entirely by a FEMA grant, said Young "Rod" Rodriguez, emergency services coordinator for Placer County.

This plan marks the third Placer County Local Hazard Mitigation Plan, with the original one created in 2005, followed by an update in 2010.

"(I hope) it can reduce the risk, reduce the vulnerability of the communities, but really help the decision makers in future land use planning and provide a guide with consideration of the hazard constraints," Foster said. "Certainly public safety is one of the most important (aspects), but beyond that, it helps provide that guidance for those future land use decisions to make you more resilient as a community."

For further information on this project, contact Rodriguez at 530-886-4600 or YRodrigu@placer.ca.gov.

More online

Visit bit.ly/1Pi3acU to view the draft 2015 plan update and to learn more.