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More than $4 million fro FEMA to Santa Rosa with back-up power projects

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The city of Santa Rosa is set to receive more than $4 million in federal funding for projects to shore up local infrastructure for future power outages, such as those caused by wildfires or imposed intentionally by PG&E.

The city will receive about $3.4 million to replace and upgrade about 20 generators and transfer switches to bolster wastewater infrastructure and another $1.1 million to install battery back-up systems at 175 traffic signals. The grants are expected to cover the bulk of the cost of the work, estimated at about $5.9 million.

“Recent wildfires and public safety power shut-offs have highlighted the need to maintain established evacuation routes,” the Federal Emergency Management Agency said in a news release. “When traffic signals lose power, intersections become four-way stops, dramatically slowing evacuations and increasing driver uncertainty.”

The FEMA grants come after widespread PG&E shut-offs over the past three months cut electricity to millions in California, including hundreds of thousands of North Bay residents before and during the massive Kincade fire.

City officials and Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, touted the grants in a joint statement Tuesday.

“As our district continues to rebuild after the October 2017 fires, it’s critical we continue working together to ensure we are better able to withstand future disasters,” Thompson said. “These projects will help our community be both more resilient to disaster and better able to respond in case of power shut-offs, like those we experienced this fall.”

Santa Rosa tallied at least 17 crashes at more than three dozen intersections that lost power during PG&E’s first October outage, as well as traffic backups at major crossings that regressed to four-way stops. During a prolonged outage later in the month, Sonoma Water resorted to using back-up generators but did not immediately report any major problems.

“This is a critical investment of grant funds from FEMA that will improve the resiliency of our city’s water system by upgrading backup power, resulting in improved system redundancy for supplying water for drinking and firefighting during an emergency,” Santa Rosa Mayor Tom Schwedhelm said in a statement. “Additionally, the investment will enable the city to prolong the operability of our traffic signals during a power outage, creating a safer and more expedited process for evacuating residents should disaster strike while the power is out.”

The city has been seeking the funding since the summer of 2018, in the wake of the 2017 North Bay wildfires, city spokeswoman Adriane Mertens said.

You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or will.schmitt@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @wsreports.

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