FEMA help?

MARQUETTE – State officials are seeking a Federal Emergency Management Agency assessment of winter freeze damage in the Upper Peninsula and parts of the northern Lower Peninsula, after costs from nine counties affected in the region have totaled $14.7 million.

“Right now, we’ve kind of met a milestone, we have exceeded the $13.7 million that’s required to now go to FEMA with a damage assessment,” said Teresa Schwalbach, Marquette County emergency management program coordinator, in an update briefing Tuesday to the Marquette County Board.

A state emergency declaration was issued by Gov. Rick Snyder for Marquette County April 17, which made state resources available to local jurisdictions without cost. Some of the items communities have sought under the declaration included leak detectors, construction equipment, steamers and manpower.

Marquette County has incurred $5 million in costs.

In May, Snyder added eight additional counties in the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula to the Region 8 emergency list including Chippewa, Delta, Gogebic, Luce and Mackinac in the U.P. and Charlevoix, Cheboygan and Emmet counties in the northern part of Lower Michigan.

Those counties are now hoping for a presidential declaration which would make federal funds available to the region, which suffered one of the worst winters in decades. Marquette County had 79 consecutive days with below freezing temperatures and frost depths reaching 8 feet or more, cracking numerous water mains and other pipes.

With the damages threshold met, Schwalbach said state officials will now compile more detailed information on regional costs and repairs to approach FEMA with a request for a preliminary damage assessment.

“We are going back to all the jurisdictions and asking them to get us exactly what the state is asking for,” Schwalbach said. “For example, they want to know exactly where the sites were that were fixed, either temporary or permanent, any payroll, any overtime, any regular time, any contractor costs, which we have been providing to the state, but now they want it a little bit more detailed.”

Schwalbach said she doesn’t think that providing the information will be a problem because damages and costs have been compiled by local jurisdictions from the start of the emergency.

“Once we get that information and they (state officials) can kind of compare and take out what is covered, what is not covered, then we’ll go to FEMA and ask for them to come down and do a preliminary damage assessment,” Schwalbach said.

Schwalbach said at 14 weeks into the event, jurisdictions are still incurring costs and final figures have not been calculated. She said a preliminary FEMA damage assessment could take a couple of months to complete.

Several local governmental units have drained their public works budgets and problems are continuing in several areas. Republic officials have used funding budgeted for the next decade battling this winter’s deep freeze.

“If you come up to Ishpeming and Negaunee there’s streets tore up or still fixing pipes because of the freeze,” Marquette County Board Chairman Gerald Corkin said. “Out at K.I. Sawyer, there’s 300,000 gallons (of water) leaking somewhere.”

Schwalbach said leak detectors have been used in the city of Marquette, Republic and Powell Township. Work has been ongoing over the past three weeks.

“In Powell Township, they thought they only had one leak, they found five,” Schwalbach said.

Schwalbach said 200 locations in Marquette were tested for leaks, Republic found two leaks and at Sawyer one of the major leaks was discovered, but more work needs to be done. Additional leak detection work is also scheduled for Ishpeming.

“Gogebic (County) … they just had an 8-inch main that was 150-feet-long break on U.S. 2 and it was a geyser,” Schwalbach said. “The pipes are still froze in areas.”

Schwalbach said a mitigation plan is being updated, which will then allow local jurisdictions to seek grant funds for improvements projects to prevent similar damages in the future.

Schwalbach said if FEMA determines after its assessment the region no longer has enough costs to meet the threshold, small business administration loans, with very low interest rates, could potentially be available to local jurisdictions to apply for.

Costs covered by the state under the governor’s declaration cannot be included in the FEMA assessment.

In addition to FEMA, Corkin said he hoped for additional funding for communities.

“The state should certainly be looking at some help for these communities too unless they want to send a bus load of financial (emergency) managers up here,” Corkin said. “They found $194 million to send to Detroit and I guess our local representative sponsored the bill. They ought to look for something here to help out these small communities in the U.P.”

In May, state Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet, introduced a bill that would provide a $10 million appropriations supplement for counties in the U.P. that have issued local states of emergencies. The money would help communities dealing with strained budgets because of this winter’s problems. At least eight counties in the U.P. have declared county emergencies.

The money in Dianda’s bill would be appropriated to the Michigan State Police. Counties and municipalities could apply for funding grants. Reimbursement would be limited to public damage related to the freeze.

Commissioner Gregory Seppanen said he hoped with a limited construction season duration some processes and requirements could be expedited to help local communities get repairs made before next winter.

Schwalbach said Snyder has a lot of powers under the governor’s declaration and hopefully he would be able to help facilitate that. She said FEMA can grant communities up to 18 months to make repairs with funds provided.