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Don't wait to sign EPA permission form

If you lost your home in the Almeda fire and you have not filed a right-of-entry form allowing contractors to remove hazardous materials from your property, don’t wait any longer.

Starting today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is downsizing its cleanup operation and sending team members to other places in the state that suffered losses. That’s because crews have finished more than 90% of hazardous waste cleanup on properties where owners have signed right-of-entry forms.

The work is free to the property owner, but contractors working for the EPA won’t do it without a signed form.

Apparently some property owners are afraid that accepting the free work will mean they will get less money from their insurance companies to rebuild. Jackson County Emergency Operations Center Director John Vial says that’s not true. Rebuilding money is separate from cleanup money.

More importantly, cleanup of ordinary debris — ash and rubble — can’t proceed until hazardous materials have been removed. And cleaning the hazardous material requires special training and transport to licensed disposal facilities — not something property owners should attempt to do on their own.

Phase two — debris removal — will largely be paid for by the federal government as well. Owners who have insurance settlement money designated for cleanup may be asked to contribute to phase two, but not with rebuilding money.

Owners who miss out risk being stuck with an expensive cleanup bill before they can start rebuilding. So don’t turn down government-paid cleanup when all you have to do is sign a permission form to get it.

County officials say a small EPA team will stay in the area to clean up straggling properties as more right-of-entry forms come in, but at some point, they will leave, too. So don’t delay. Go to jacksoncounty.org/roe and sign the form.

Manufactured home parks aren’t necessarily included in phase two cleanup, because parks and apartment buildings are considered commercial, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency expects business owners to carry enough insurance to cover cleanup and rebuilding costs. Jackson County commissioners have written to FEMA asking that mobile home parks be included in phase two. FEMA should grant this request, and Oregon’s congressional delegation should urge the agency to expand the coverage.

Mobile homes, which made up two-thirds of homes lost in the fire, are some of the valley’s most affordable housing, and replacing that housing stock is essential.