Gov. asks for economic disaster declaration in wake of bridge collapse

Businesses struggling to make regular necessary payments since the Skagit River Bridge collapse last month may soon be eligible for assistance in the form of low-interest loans from the United States Small Business Administration.

Gov. Jay Inslee sent a letter Tuesday to the administration’s field office in Sacramento, asking for an economic injury disaster to be declared for Skagit and surrounding counties.

“The collapse of the bridge has had a significant impact on the surrounding economy, despite outstanding efforts by community leaders and the state Department of Transportation to quickly establish detours and remind visitors that Skagit County remains open for business,” the governor said in a news release.

The request from Inslee, along with data showing at least five businesses have suffered substantial damage following the bridge collapse, were necessary for the administration to consider providing emergency loans directly to businesses, said Kevin Wynne, public information officer for the administration.

These businesses also must demonstrate a need for financial assistance that is available by no other means, said Yolanda Stokes, public information officer for the administration.

Wynne said the letter and economic injury worksheets were sent to the administration’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., Tuesday. He said a decision to provide the loans could be made in one to three days, and those loans could be available to businesses one or two days after that, Wynne said.

In his letter, Inslee said businesses were severely affected by traffic jams caused when approximately 71,000 vehicles per day were rerouted from Interstate 5 onto local streets.

Don Wick, executive director of the Economic Development Association of Skagit County, said local businesses reported losses to his organization of up to 80 percent during the nearly four weeks the highway was closed.

Commerce along the only north-south highway in Washington, traffic to a ferry terminal in Anacortes and tourism in Island and San Juan counties also were affected, Inslee said.

“The impact to the business community during the traditional tourist season in the summer is significant,” Inslee said in the letter.

The loans can provide businesses up to $2 million in working capital with terms of up to 30 years at an interest rate of 4 percent.

Stokes said the loans are meant for businesses unable to meet necessary monthly payments such as bills, salaries and cash flow due to the bridge collapse.

Wick said if the loans are released, an SBA representative will be located at EDASC offices, 204 W Montgomery St., Mount Vernon to accept applications and counsel businesses.