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Cherokee scores federal storm clean-up assistance

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians became the first tribe in the nation to receive a Presidential Declaration of Disaster for damages to tribal lands from severe rainstorms in January. 

The designation means that the Eastern Band is eligible for disaster relief assistance from the federal government. Previously, the state acted as a go-between for the tribe and the federal government.


“That will make it more efficient,” said Michael Bolch, a federal coordinating officer for FEMA, adding that the tribe could also qualify for funding that it did not in the past.

With the declaration, the federal government will pay 75 percent of the cost to repair any damages related to the four-day rainstorm from Jan. 14-17. Damages are estimated at $3 million. 

“It could be higher than that or it could be lower than that,” Bolch said.

A slide on Mt. Noble Road will alone cost about $1.3 million to fix. But repairs mostly consist of debris clean-up and fixing torn up river banks. The January heavy rains submerged Oconaluftee Island Park near downtown Cherokee, for example. 

Assistance will cover repairs to tribal lands but not individual property.

The deal will not include the landslide on U.S. 441 in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which the federal government is already paying for.

FEMA will have between 35 and 40 employees on the ground in Cherokee to catalog and survey damages. FEMA will set up mobile operations in the parking lot of a hotel next to the Eastern Band’s Emergency Management Center.

At the end of the project once all the expenses are tallied, the Eastern Band will also receive 15 percent of the total cost to spend on mitigating future storm damage.

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