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Disaster relief office opened today

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The Ministry of Housing and Municipal Affairs rep has set up a claims office in Fort Frances, which opened today.

While the ministry reps were in town last Wednesday, it’s taken some time to get set up. “From what I understand, it’s mostly been because of the phone lines,” Mayor Glenn Witherspoon said.

“There’s a difference between getting a residential phone line put in and ones used for something like this,” he added. “You’d think Bell could hurry things up.”

But now that the situation has shaped up, Mayor Witherspoon said the ODRAP office, located at 400B Scott St. (the old Union Gas office), will help move along the process for disaster relief assistance “big time.”

“There’s people’s future stability depending on this assistance. The sooner they can sort things out, the better,” he stressed.

Office manager Ian Mollett noted claim forms are available there, which district residents who have suffered damage not covered by insurance can fill out.

The office, which is open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., will have staff on hand to answer questions or help applicants out.

Applications also can be found at www.mah.gov.on.ca/forms/odrap-e.pdf

The office here will be open for about six months to serve district residents, during which time the ministry-appointed staff will try to get as much done as possible, said Mollett.

Despite having handled the aftermath of tornadoes in Barrie and Walkerton, he remarked the extent of the storm damage here was remarkable.

“I’ve seen pictures. There’s hundreds of pictures and I was amazed at those,” he said.

“Then we went out [last Thursday] and looked at the same sites,” he added. “It was good to see the water was down to an extent, but now you can see the results of what happened.

“I fully understand what the people are going through.”

Full eligibility requirements are included with a claim form. After a claim is made, an adjuster will be appointed to the claim to take photos, etc.

Meanwhile, Rick Hallam, the town’s chief building official, said he’s been “extremely busy” in the past two weeks, not only directing calls about disaster relief to the ministry, but visiting sites where extensive damage has been done to homes.

“I’m mainly looking at structural repairs. If we’re looking at pulling out some walls, for instance, I should be contacted for advice,” he noted.

Hallam said the town won’t require the issuance of a building permit for the completion of necessary repairs and restorative work.

“But people need to understand, if they’re going to decide to redo their basement, for instance, moving the rec room over there and this over there, they will have to get a building permit,” he added.

While Hallam still will be working on assessing home repairs, his workload will be made easier now that the ODRAP office is open.

In related news, town council announced during its regular meeting Monday night that former councillor Nick Wihnan would be the Fort Frances rep on the district disaster relief committee.

Mollett met with district municipalities last Thursday, at which time he asked representatives to go back to their respective areas and chose members for a disaster relief committee.

“Those representatives will be responsible for the program being implemented in that area and the hiring of adjusters,” he noted.

The committee will be responsible for settling eligible claims made by affected residents at up to 90 percent.

The disaster relief committee likely will have its initial meeting during the first week of July. It will meet on a weekly basis after that.

The ministry declared the district a disaster area June 14. This covers the 10 municipalities and unorganized areas in the district, including Fort Frances, as well as the Township of Ignace in Kenora District.

The Township of Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls also was declared a disaster area by Municipal Affairs and Housing minister Chris Hodgson last Wednesday (June 19).

The district last was declared a disaster area in October, 2001 following the vicious storms of July 31.

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