Muskogee County commissioners plan to tap into pandemic-relief funds to offset costs repairing public infrastructure damaged by a severe winter storm in February. 

Commissioners approved a resolution on Monday that authorizes the distribution of $150,000 to each of the three districts from the CARES Act account. The decision was made after the Federal Emergency Management Agency declined to reimburse the county for "permanent repairs."

Emergency Management Director Jeff Smith said the county will be reimbursed for expenses related to its emergency response to a winter storm that warranted a statewide disaster declaration. Muskogee County and surrounding counties were among 16 in the state that qualified for individual assistance, but reimbursement of permanent repairs to public infrastructure was limited. 

Damage caused by the contraction and expansion of the soil caused by sub-zero temperatures and the rapid thaw that occurred afterward caused most of the damage to county roads. Commissioners said the freeze-thaw cycle combined with the snow and ice that accumulated during the severe winter storm "turned the roads to Jell-O" in some areas.

While FEMA typically reimburses local governments for damage to public infrastructure at a rate of 75% when a disaster is declared, permanent damage caused by the winter storm proved more difficult to quantify. Unlike damage caused by ice, flooding or tornadoes, commissioners said there are no clearly defined guidelines for damage caused by extremely cold temperatures. 

Commissioner Kenny Payne said the extreme temperatures caused more damage to roads in District 3 than any disaster declared during his tenure. Damage to roads across the county was described by commissioners as "significant" and "major," and the costs were "extensive" for all three districts.

District 1 Commissioner Ken Doke said the cost of repairs nearly depleted the budgeted funds for road repairs. The CARES Act funding will supplement those accounts. 

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