Crow tribal chairman critical of Schweitzer's flood response 6-14-07

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - The chairman of the Crow Tribe says he is “disappointed” in Gov. Brian Schweitzer because of his response to flooding on the Crow Indian Reservation.

Carl Venne said he called Schweitzer last week about flooding, but the governor did not provide assistance. The tribal chairman did not immediately return calls seeking further comment Wednesday about his remark reported in that day's Billings Gazette.

Officials in the Schweitzer administration said Wednesday that the Montana Department of Transportation sent employees and equipment to the reservation last week for flood-related work, and that a state helicopter would be dispatched to fly over flooded areas for a damage assessment.

The Montana Department of Military affairs, through Disaster and Emergency Services, has contacted the Federal Emergency Management Agency about sending a team to the area to conduct a preliminary damage assessment, according to a news release issued late Wednesday. The assessment will take place early next week in Lodge Grass and other areas of Big Horn County and the Crow reservation, and will ascertain whether the amount of damage meets the requirement for a disaster declaration.

“We have been monitoring this situation since we were first notified of the flooding last week,” said Adj. Gen. Randy Mosley, head of the Montana National Guard and director of the Department of Military Affairs. “We are working closely with the Crow Tribe and other local government officials to provide timely support and assistance.”

Flooding that began Friday as river levels rose damaged crops, cattle guards, the basements of some homes and residential furnaces. Floodwater briefly closed part of Interstate 90 during the weekend. Crow residents were urged to boil drinking water, because of possible contamination.

Floodwaters have been receding and William Driftwood, Crow disaster and emergency services coordinator, said the tribe has shifted from flood response to recovery. “People are coming in, reporting losses and doing paperwork,” Driftwood said.

Jim Lynch, the state transportation director appointed by Schweitzer, said Wednesday that his agency last week sent workers and equipment to build dikes and do other flood work on the reservation.

Major Robinson, Schweitzer's director of Indian affairs, said the governor and Venne spoke during the weekend “regarding some assistance there.” The gateway for state assistance ordinarily is a county disaster declaration, and Big Horn County has not issued one, said Sarah Elliott, Schweitzer's communications director. The tribe has declared a disaster and wants federal and state help.

Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., wrote the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Wednesday and requested assistance for the Crow Tribe. FEMA should declare an emergency on the reservation, Rehberg said.

Robinson and Elliott said the Schweitzer administration believed a state helicopter had been dispatched for damage assessment, and after learning it had not, arrangements to send the aircraft to the Crow area were undertaken. Officials assume Venne will want to be on the flight, therefore the helicopter will be sent once arrangements are worked out with his office, Elliott said.