Lewis and Clark County leaders say, after Friday, they will no longer be able to provide free sandbags for county residents affected by flooding.
County Commissioner Susan Good Geise said the sandbag distribution at the fairgrounds will end at 5 p.m. Friday. She said county leaders have talked to local businesses, to ensure that they will have enough sandbags available for purchase to meet residents’ needs.
Geise said, as of Thursday, the county had handed out more than 70,000 sandbags. She said each one costs the county about a dollar for the bag, the sand and the employee time.
Geise said the state or federal government can reimburse some of the county’s costs, but only for protecting schools, roads and other public infrastructure. She said the cost of sandbags for private property will have to come out of the general fund, from an amount set aside for emergencies.
“Right now, we’re dealing with floods, but we’re pretty darn sure that a couple of months from now, we’re going to be looking at fires,” she said. “Those also get to be very expensive, and so we’re going to need to make sure that we’re good stewards of the money.”
The county commission declared a flooding emergency last week. That means they could raise additional money through an emergency levy on county residents, but that money can also only go toward public infrastructure costs.
Geise said the county will continue providing sandbags if they are needed to protect infrastructure like Rossiter School. They are also spending about $2,500 a day for two large pumps that are directing water from the Rossiter area into a drain system leading to Lake Helena.