PAYETTE, Idaho — Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown flew in a Black Hawk helicopter together Feb. 10 to get a close-up view of the damage caused by this winter’s heavy snowfall.
The governors earlier attended town hall meetings in their respective states where they heard from people affected by this winter’s heavy snowfall, which has resulted in the collapse of at least 50 onion storage buildings and packing sheds, in addition to several hundred other structures in the region.
The governors were shocked by the extent of the damage, which is estimated at about $100 million to the region’s onion industry alone.
“We saw a lot of devastation and we heard about a lot of devastation (today),” Otter said during a joint press conference. “We’re going to work to recover just as fast as we can.”
Brown, who earlier in the day was provided a vehicle tour of some of the dozens of collapsed onion buildings, was stunned by what she saw.
“It looks like a tornado disaster. It’s just awful,” she said during a town hall meeting in Ontario. “Thank you for sharing your stories. I think it will help us craft a solution for the community and region.”
Brown pledged to do “everything I can to help you all get through this and move into recovery mode.”
Both governors said agencies from the two states would work together to try to expedite recovery as quickly as possible and find assistance for those affected by the damage.
They brought with them cabinet members as well as the directors of their respective state agriculture departments, emergency management officials and National Guard leaders.
During the Ontario town hall event, farmers and other local business owners stressed how important it was to help the local agricultural economy recover.
“Without the farmers, ranchers and processors, this community goes fallow,” said John Kerby, who owns a retail business in Ontario. “To say we are in crisis, in peril, is understating what is happening here.”
The immediacy of the need for assistance was also stressed.
“We have unfolding a disaster of epic proportions and we need to have a response that matches the challenges we face,” said Oregon Sen. Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day.
The governors said both states are actively working to obtain federal assistance for the area.
Otter, a Republican, and Brown, a Democrat, both promised that help is on the way.
“We are working every single day to make sure that we can find as many tools in the toolbox as possible to assist with recovery efforts,” Brown said. “I know the impact, particularly in the agricultural sector, has been devastating.”
Malheur County Onion Growers President Paul Skeen, who flew in the Idaho National Guard Black Hawk with the governors and took Brown on the earlier tour of the collapsed buildings, said she appears to understand the seriousness of the situation,
“Every time she saw another building that had gone down, she’d just say, ‘Oh my gosh, oh my gosh,’” Skeen said. “She’s understanding it.”