Hood River (again) wins USDA appeal

The city of Hood River can again claim victory of the US Department of Agriculture in an attempt to get back funds to complete a waterline project.

However, just as it did after winning a previous appeal against the USDA to get the funds restored, the city is waiting to get excited until it actually sees the money.

“It’s a necessary but a not sufficient step to make sure we get the money,” said Hood River mayor Arthur Babitz.

James Murphy, the Deputy Directory of the USDA appeals division, found the USDA's decision to withhold the funds to be “inconsistent with applicable laws and regulations.”

Following the USDA's revocation of the funds in 2011, the city appealed to the USDA regional office. A hearings officer on the case determined that the USDA had errored in revoking the funds. The USDA followed that appeal by appealing for a director's level, national office review of the hearing officers decision.

In 2009, Hood River applied for approximately $23 million in federal funding through the USDA to help improve a watermine, refurbish a resevoir and conduct bridge repairs.

After the funds were authorized, the city informed the USDA that the actual costs on the projects would be significantly lower than the $23 million granted to the city and requested to use $9 million in remaining funds to replace five miles of pipeline between two resevoirs.

The USDA initially approved the request in June 2011, but then revoked the funds the following September and declared them excess.

The USDA claimed that it was obligated to revoke all excess funds from projects.

“I am not persuaded by the Agency's argument,” Murray writes in his decision. He later states that the agency failed to apply its regulations correctly, and should not have revoked the funds from the project after construction had already commenced.

“While the Agency in its request for Director review may disagree with the Hearing Officer's determination, mere disagreement does not form a basis for reversal,” Murray wrote.

While Murray upheld the hearing officer's decision to restore the funds to the city, the USDA still has discretion on how and when to distribute the money to the city.

“We want them to exercise that discretion appropriately,” Babitz said. “It’s just one more step in a long-long process.”

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See www.co.hood-river.or.us to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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