Rocky Boy flooding damage estimated at $32M

Great Falls, Montana (AP) November 2010

Flooding on the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation this spring caused at least $32 million in damage, and Chippewa Cree Tribe leaders are estimating it will take the tribe three years to recover.

Tribal chairman Raymond “Jake” Parker told visiting Sen. Max Baucus last week that the bill could still grow.

“We’re trying to look at creative ways to come up with more money,” Parker told the Montana Democrat. “We’re going to be coming to you for a lot of help.”

Heavy rain in June washed out roads, wiped out water lines and flooded about 250 of the tribe’s 900 homes. For weeks, the entire reservation was without running water.

The Rocky Boy Health Care Center was destroyed when a hillside shifted and made the structure unstable.

The Great Falls Tribune reported the tribe estimates constructing a new clinic will take three years and cost $18 million.

Parker said it was a 100-year storm, something the tribe couldn’t have prepared for and may never see again.

The federal government has waived its requirement that the Chippewa Cree Tribe pay a quarter of the rebuilding costs in order to receive aid, agreeing that the tribe has no tax base and couldn’t afford it.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has agreed to pick up the entire tab on only two other occasions – the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina.

“This isn’t the wealthiest bunch of folks, and they’re hurting,” Baucus said. “This was a no-brainer.”

The tribe has moved its health care operations into a smaller building and into temporary trailers. There are fewer examination rooms available, leading to longer waits to see a doctor. Three doctors share an office and the nurses’ station doubles as an X-ray viewing area.

There are fewer private specialists since the storm, forcing patients to drive to Havre or Great Falls for certain treatments.

Parker said the tribe would like the new clinic, which will be located near Stone Child College, to be 90,000 square feet, or about 50 percent larger than the previous one.

That’s where he’s seeking help from Baucus and Montana’s delegation. Parker believes the tribe can build the clinic for the $18 million FEMA allocated for the project, but federal rules limit the tribe from constructing anything larger than what is being replaced.

The tribe still owes $4 million on the now unusable clinic, which was constructed for $12 million in 2004.

Parker hopes the federal government will take over that debt and clear the way for the new, larger center.

Construction crews have repaired or replaced nearly all of the damaged water distribution infrastructure.

Four families are waiting for new homes to replace ones destroyed during the flood. Other homes have mold from the flooding that now needs to be removed.

Tribal Planning Director Kim Traversie said the clinic has seen an increase in respiratory problems caused by mold, and she fears more mold will be discovered as residents prepare their homes for winter.