Lewis and Clark County will no longer provide sandbags to private residents during flood season.
In the spring of 2018, floods struck the Helena Valley, Augusta and other areas. The county responded to the flooding by providing 173 tons of sand and thousands of sandbags to residents at the Lewis and Clark County Fairgrounds.
"It's about $1 per bag, once you pay for the bag and the sand and the staff time," county commissioner Susan Good-Giese told the Independent Record last May.
According to the county's public information officer Jeni Garcin, the state of Montana has declined to reimburse counties for providing private homeowners with sandbags.
"Many things factored into this decision, including financial and logistics challenges and potential liability issues," she said.
Garcin said the county is advising residents to purchase their own sandbags to prepare for flood season.
"Commercial gravel pits are a great source for purchasing sand," Garcin said.
Lewis and Clark County provided sandbags to homeowners in both 2011 and 2018, with 2011 being a historically bad year for flooding.
"Prior to that, specifics are not readily available," Garcin said.
Garcin said the county has not heard any complaints from residents about the decision, but noted that last year people were "upset when the county stopped distributing sand and sandbags" as floodwaters continued to rise.
"Complaints were also heard from people who had already purchased their own sand and sandbags prior to the distribution, and there were a few complaints regarding the improper spending of tax dollars on this issue," Garcin said. The county was forced to gather another $130,000 of taxpayer money to pay for flood damage in July, according to reporting in the Independent Record.
Garcin said the county has been working on better handling flood-mitigation in the Ten Mile Creek drainage area, including the Trap Club Project near Rossiter School, which will significantly expand culverts.
"In 2015, a hydrologic and hydraulic study was added to the scope of the project," Garcin said.
The purpose was to model the Helena Valley to determine existing conditions and, more importantly, what effect new projects would have to the overall system. The county also created a Rural Improvement District in the Valley at a cost of $100 per year per parcel of land that takes those funds and spends them only in the RID.
Last year, the Community Organizations Active in Disasters, or COAD, also helped provide sandbags to homeowners who needed them. Capt. Rob Lawler of the Salvation Army in Helena said the group has not yet made any plans to help with flooding again this year, but "if there is a need we'll look at it."