Storm disaster declaration extended, Newton tree limb cleanup complete

Chad Frey
The Kansan
A storm passed through Newton June 25 and 26, leaving downed tree limbs and damage in its wake. The city announced the completion of tree limb cleanup Tuesday.

This week the Harvey County commission extended a disaster declaration for the area in the wake of a storm July 25. 

"In order for us to be eligible [for funds], we need to extend this a week," said Gary Denny, director of emergency management for Harvey County. 

Harvey County first passed an emergency declaration one week ago, with area damage estimates not complete as the cleanup continued — and Harvey County is not alone. The Kansas Disaster Management Office is not yet finished tabulating damages from the June 25 storm. 

There is a deadline to report those damages. 

"Counties have until Friday to report damages to the state," Denny said. 

Denny said the county needed to extend its declaration in order for the state to finish damage tabulations that will determine of the state can apply for federal funds. The county would need an active declaration of disaster in place to access those funds if they become available. 

"Our biggest townships will have a lot of road damage and tree removal will be quite extensive," Denny said. "With those damages, and [advice of] the representative from the Kansas Department of Emergency management, we truly believe we can meet our [county] threshold." 

Suzanne Loomis, director of public works for the city of Newton, announced July 13 cleanup of tree limbs  was completed that day. 

"I want to give kudos to the city tree picker uppers," said Rod Kreie, Newton city commissioner. "Wow. Those guys, I just set and watched them work once in a while. I kind felt both old and guilty at the same time. There was just limbs galore around town."

Late last week  the city turned to an independent contractor for help. Alfred's Tree Service began assisting with limb removal on Monday, and projected completion of the project by Friday if there are no weather setbacks. 

The Harvey County Commission passed a disaster  resolution July 6 declaring a state of disaster as the result of a storm that swept through the area June 25. 

If the county can account for more than $135,000 in uninsured damages, the county can file for assistance — provided the state can meet thresholds for accessing federal funds. 

For the state to eligible for federal aid, damages must hit more than $4 million  statewide. 

"What we are waiting for now is if there are other counties in the state of Kansas where we can meet the state threshold," Denny said. 

The city of Newton also announced some "crurmmy news," according to the city Facebook page, about a project to renovate the municipal pool that has been ongoing this spring and summer — the storm delayed construction. 

A storm that swept through Newton July 25 has delayed municipal pool construction.

"The big storm late last month kept things wet too long and washed out some subgrade with conduits that need to be replaced, pushing everything back a week,"  city staff wrote on the city Facebook page. 

The city has set grand opening of the pool, tentatively, for Aug. 6 — one week before school in Newton USD 373 is set to start. 

With a shortage of lifeguards, the Newton Recreation Commission is evaluating their options for the facility. It is unclear how long they will be able to operate the facility. 

"They have to fill it, run it, and make sure everything works. If we can retain our guards, we will be open," said Brian Bascue, superintendent of the Newton Recreation Commission. "... It will come down to, once school starts, the availability of guards. We have kids that will go back to college and kids in activities. Once we get closer and find out their availability, we can make that decision." 

Normally when school starts we shut down, because we lose our guards at that time. We are trying to see if we can retain some of thsese people and keep it open a little bit. 

No matter what is decided, the pool will be filled with water when it is complete — even if that is only for testing of the pool before winterizing the facility.  The Recreation Commission was set to meet at 7 a.m. July 15.