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County seeks help with drought relief

Drought-stricken Lawrence countians might not see Ohio National Guard help arrive, but state and federal officials continue seeking aid for farmers.

Tuesday, August 10, 1999

Drought-stricken Lawrence countians might not see Ohio National Guard help arrive, but state and federal officials continue seeking aid for farmers.

Farm disaster declarations exist, but Gov. Bob Taft has not issued one covering non-agriculture affiliated businesses or residents, said Orest Holubec, the governor’s deputy press secretary.

"The state hasn’t ruled it out, but it will depend on the amount of federal assistance provided and the amount of damage assessed after the harvest," Holubec said.

The Ohio Emergency Management Agency has mobilized some water tankers for southern Ohio, but a non-agriculture disaster declaration could mean mobilizing National Guard troops, which is needed, county commissioner Paul Herrell said.

"I’ve still got faith," Herrell said. "I think they’ve been waiting on more information, but we’ve been urging them on because it’s just getting worse every day. These little showers are nice but they don’t help."

County emergency crews are providing water to township trustees who distribute to residents with dry wells. Two county tankers also have been delivering water.

"We can’t keep up with the need, though," Herrell said. "And people just donate so much water and we’re about to our limit."

Meanwhile, Gov. Bob Taft asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture last week to issue a disaster declaration for 66 Ohio counties’ farmers, including Lawrence’s, because of the drought.

Farmers in another 20 counties also could be eligible, because those counties border the 66.

The request follows a recent USDA disaster declaration for West Virginia that also covered nine southern Ohio counties bordering the Mountain State.

The department’s state emergency board announced Thursday that the counties were eligible for disaster loans because farmers there had crop or livestock production reduced by at least 30 percent.

Herrell said county farmers appreciate the help because feed grasses are not growing well in the summer heat.

"Hay is a scarce item right now," he said. "This is the first time I’ve bought hay in 40 years."

Money for the loans won’t be available until after the fiscal year begins in October.

"Our hope is the feds will rush the money through Congress to get help to farmers as quickly as we can," Holubec said. "And we hope they include direct payments as well as low-interest loans into that assistance."

Rick Borland, program specialist with the U.S. Farm Service Agency, which helps administer disaster money, said Lawrence County has a better in-road with aid because of the West Virginia declaration.

"You are eligible now whereas the balance of the state is not until later," Borland said. "And, in most cases, when you apply for a loan it’s on a first-come-first-served basis, so that’s a help."

At this point, just loans for livestock damage and feeding are available to eligible farmers, he said.

But a farm disaster declaration by the state gives the state a better chance at receiving direct payments, he added.