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Unclaimed state lottery money goes to Skagit Valley businesses

Cars and bridge debris is removed from the wreckage of an Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon. A temporary bridge could be in place by mid-June, but business owners say this is wrecking their companies too. (AP Photo/Washington Department of Transportation)

It’s not much compared to the millions of dollars in losses, but $150,000 in state funds from unclaimed lottery prizes will be used to help businesses affected by Skagit bridge collapse.

Governor Jay Inslee directed the state to release the money today.

“We know this bridge closure has already significantly impacted the surrounding economy and we’re working to address that,” Inslee says in a statement. “We’ve seen how quickly this community has rallied together to help each other and brainstorm creative solutions. We now need to give the community the resources it needs to implement those solutions.”

Funds from the strategic reserve account cannot be distributed directly to businesses but will be used to support marketing and promotion efforts.

Tourism offices in Skagit, Whatcom, Island and San Juan Counties will work on a regional media campaign to inform the public that “area businesses and attractions are open and easily accessible by several alternate routes and ferries.”

If you live or work in the Skagit Valley region impacted by the I-5 bridge collapse, would you agree with “easily accessible”?

As soon as the full impact of the bridge closure is understood, Governor Inslee may also pursue a formal disaster declaration from the Small Business Administration.

Businesses are asked to keep track of their economic damages from the accident so they can report it to county emergency management officials.

Store owners at the Burlington Outlet Mall say their customer traffic is down at least 50 percent from what a normal Memorial Day weekend would have been like.

Even before the bridge disaster, Skagit County was hurting more than other parts of the state. The county’s unemployment rate is 8.3 percent for April.

That is higher than the state average of 7 percent. It’s also higher than surrounding counties, including Whatcom to the north with an unemployment rate of 6.9 percent, and Snohomish to the south at 4.9 percent. By comparison, King County’s April unemployment rate was 4.4 percent.

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