Tuesday, July 19, 2011

TOP STORY >> FEMA is asked for aid

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville officials sat down with FEMA representatives Tuesday morning to discuss what kind of damage the city endured between April 14 and June 3 from severe storms and tornadoes and what their departments need to do to receive federal assistance.

Jim Ammons, FEMA public-assistance coordinator, emphasized the importance of documentation and mitigation during the public-assistance kick-off meeting at city hall.

Mitigation is what happens when something is damaged several times during natural disasters and FEMA can step in to help pay for a long-term solution to the recurring problem in an effort to be more cost-effective.

“If we can spend $4 today and save $10 in the future, then that’s what we’re going to do,” Ammons said.

He also explained that assistance funding goes to the state for distribution.

“The question of when are we going to get our money doesn’t come to us,” Ammons explained.

Extensive documentation is required because of numerous regulations, Ammons said, as he stressed the legal impact of not having that information for audits, which can be conducted years later.

“The city can be sued and FEMA can be sued if we don’t follow these guidelines. Keep it (paperwork) until the 12th of never. Protect your community; protect yourself and those who follow you. Write it down.”

He said immediate actions taken, like debris removal and emergency services, need to be completed within six months. Permanent work is given an 18-month deadline the state can extend at the city’s request, as long as the state has reasonable notice that the city needs an extension.

FEMA collected ballpark figures for the damage the city had.

Parks and Recreation Director Kristen Griggs said her department had picked up a documented five tons of vegetative debris and her estimate for additional debris that hasn’t been counted yet was three to five tons. Ammons suggested the estimate for the total debris be written down as 10 tons. The department also had an estimated $14,000 in damaged equipment.

Public Works Director Jim Oakley said his department picked up about 1,000 cubic yards of debris directly related to the storms.

The city spent an estimated $1,000 to run a shelter at the community center and put three families at hotels for a three-day maximum stay. That estimate includes the cost of overtime city employees worked, food for the shelter and other items, such as cots. Cost to the city was greatly reduced because many churches and other entities donated food and items for the shelter.

Police Chief Gary Sipes estimated the cost to his department for evacuations, additional patrols, traffic control and accident response at $12,000. The department also had an estimated $1,000 in damage to the roof of the police station.

Fire Department Chief John Vanderhoof offered an estimate of about $5,000 for the overtime hours firefighters worked during the disaster.

Ammons added $10,000 for a total estimate of $15,000 because FEMA reimburses cities for the cost of using equipment during the disaster and that cost is usually double the estimated overtime wages.

FEMA does not reimburse for the wages employees would normally earn from working regular hours, but the agency does collect how many hours equipment is used during a disaster.

Thea Hughes, general manager of Jacksonville Wastewater, said $4,500 worth of damage was done to a pump station during the flood. The agency is building a retainer wall around the station because damage had occurred before when the area flooded in 2009. The retainer wall is a mitigation item. Hughes said that project is still in the design stages so she didn’t have the estimated cost of building the wall.

The meeting finished up with FEMA environmental specialist Robert Long telling officials how important it is to have permits and to adhere to environmental regulations.