Businesses affected by the Western Excelsior mill fire in Mancos have just two weeks left to apply for federal assistance.
Montezuma County Emergency Manager Paul Hollar gave a presentation on Tuesday to about 20 local business owners, explaining what federal assistance is available to them now that the county and Mancos have declared the fire an economic emergency. If the county’s request for funds is approved by Gov. John Hickenlooper, all business owners who can prove they were affected by the disaster will be eligible for economic injury disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration. But at least five businesses have to apply for the loans beforehand for the town to qualify, Hollar said.
Attendees at the meeting included truck drivers, loggers and representatives of Western Excelsior Corp., among others. State Sen. Don Coram, Drew Petersen of the Colorado Office of Emergency Management and Mancos’s interim town administrator, Heather Alvarez, were also present.
Hollar started the meeting by dispelling some “rumors” he had heard going around the county since the declaration. He emphasized that a declaration of economic emergency has to be approved at the state level before it can go on to the federal government, and that the aid available to affected businesses would come in the form of loans, not grants.
“We declared an emergency here ... but that does not mean that FEMA’s going to roll up with the money truck and just start handing it out,” he said. “The ultimate goal for me is to try to help our local businesses ride this out until determinations are made.”
Emergency declarations have to be approved by the governor within 120 days of the disaster, Hollar said, which means Mancos now has less than 60 days to send all its paperwork to his office. If five county businesses turn in completed applications by July 25, though, he said the funding request would be “in good shape.”
He handed out application forms to everyone at the meeting, asking them to return them to him within two weeks.
Zach Snyder, president of Western Excelsior, said his company hasn’t decided when or if the Mancos mill will be rebuilt.
“From a scale perspective, I can’t see a scenario where there’s no production here in Mancos, but we also can’t really see a scenario where we’re back in the full production model where we were,” he said.
“Hopefully within the next nine to 12 months, we’ll be producing something here, but no guarantees.”
Snyder, who traveled from Western Excelsior’s headquarters in Indiana, said he plans to spend more than a week in the Montezuma County region discussing insurance-related issues with staff members.
More than five business representatives took emergency loan applications after the meeting, but not everyone saw a need for them. Craig Muzzy is the owner of Crosscut Logging, one of the primary lumber contractors for Western Excelsior in Mancos. He said the destruction of the mill forced him to look for work elsewhere, but he doesn’t plan to seek government assistance.
“I have my reasons,” he said. “I don’t need a loan.”
Trucker Chris Gustafson and his wife, Bobbie, said they might apply for a loan, but more out of solidarity with the rest of the county than to fill their own needs.
“If this is the fifth one, it might help somebody else out,” Chris Gustafson said.
Representatives of the U.S. Forest Service and the Colorado Small Business Development Center also brought hand-outs advertising other forms of financial assistance available in the county.