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Gallatin County releasing emergency planning draft

Bay Stephens

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Public comments accepted through Jan. 22

By Jessianne Castle EBS Contributor

BOZEMAN – After more than a year of planning, Gallatin County officials are releasing a draft plan that addresses potential area hazards and how to reduce their effects. Known as the Hazard Mitigation Plan, this document was slated for release on Dec. 21 and the county will accept public comments through Jan. 22.

The draft, written by the consulting firm Respec and planned for approval by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is an updated version of a plan written in 2012. Gallatin County Emergency Management said in an email to EBS that all draft material may not be available immediately.

“Our contractor is slaving away on these documents and is worried about having everything complete on the 21st, so it is possible not everything will be posted first thing on the 21st,” the county department wrote.

According to Patrick Lonergan, director of Gallatin County Emergency Management, a major improvement in the new plan is an emphasis on area-specific information. “This time there has been more community involvement to know area concerns and avoid generalizing entire county hazards,” he said in a Dec. 18 phone interview.

A series of meetings were held between October 2017 and November 2018 throughout the county in order to better understand community threats from flooding and earthquakes to hazardous material spills or bioterrorism. While each community’s assessment of hazards has been pooled to create a list of countywide threats, those unique to different areas are also acknowledged. For example, Lonergan said, wildfire is more of a concern in Big Sky than it is in Belgrade because of the denser forestland surrounding the resort community.

In Big Sky, community members have expressed concerns about limited transportation access due Highway 64’s single egress, as well as the impacts of a critical infrastructure failure such as a loss of electricity.

While the plan lists hazards, an equally important aspect of the document discusses methods that could mitigate the threats. Lonergan said he anticipates adding more to this portion of the draft based on planning activities proposed during the January public comment period.

The Hazard Mitigation Act of 2000 requires states, counties and cities to have FEMA-approved mitigation plans that are updated every five years in order to be eligible for nonemergency federal funding that can help finance projects that reduce threats to individual communities.

In addition to releasing the Hazard Mitigation Plan, Gallatin County intends to issue a draft of the Community Wildfire Protection Plan, which has been updated in conjunction with the hazards document. The wildfire plan will be more data driven than the 2006 plan the county uses currently, Lonergan said, adding that new technology has given planners more access to critical information.

“We’re trying to come up with something that’s well founded and based on data,” he said.

A final review session will be held in Bozeman on Jan. 22 at 1 p.m. at the Gallatin County Coordination Center, with a virtual teleconference available upon request.

Visit readygallatin.com/mitigation to review the draft plans and submit comments.

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