Region’s freeze damages near $20M

MARQUETTE – The damage costs produced by this past winter’s deep freeze conditions have now reached nearly $20 million for the region, with $6.5 million of those costs incurred in Marquette County alone.

Earlier this month, Marquette County Emergency Management Program coordinator Teresa Schwalbach said damage costs from nine affected Michigan counties had totaled $14.7 million including $5 million in Marquette County.

Schwalbach said this week costs for the region have since risen to $19.3 million.

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. 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 jointly hoping for a presidential declaration which would make federal funds available to the region, which suffered one of the worst winters in decades.

With a threshold of $13.7 million in damages surpassed for the region, state officials have asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency office in Chicago to assess the region’s damages, a necessary step in pursuing a presidential declaration.

“The state is now working with FEMA to have them…hopefully come here soon to come down and do a preliminary damage assessment,” Schwalbach told the Marquette County Board. “FEMA will probably add or take away damage that is eligible. By staying at that 19 to 20 million dollar mark, if we have to cut a lot off from the other counties in the state, we can hopefully still stay at that $13.7 million (threshold).”

Schwalbach said the damage costs keep rising and data is still being collected in the region. She said officials have made sure damage costs provided by local jurisdictions did not include ineligible items.

“I feel very good about the figures that we’ve submitted and that they’re legit,” Schwalbach said.

She said a preliminary FEMA damage assessment could take a couple of months to complete.

Marquette County Board Chairman Gerald Corkin said he hopes the state Legislature might still act to financially aid the region, if federal funding is not provided.

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

In April, 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.

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.

“I would hope that if FEMA help doesn’t come through that the state would step forward and provide some help with Scott Dianda’s bill. It helped Detroit for $195 million,” Corkin said. “The problems that happened in the U.P. weren’t caused by mismanagement or other things, they were caused by Mother Nature, so a little help certainly would be expected from the state if FEMA doesn’t come through.”

Elise Matz, a legislative aide to Dianda, said Thursday his bill never got picked up by committee and has languished.

The Legislature recently approved its budget for the coming year before adjourning for the summer.

Policy staff for Dianda said the 2014 budget included a one-time appropriation of $2 million to the state’s Disaster and Emergency Contingency Fund. A current $2.5 million balance in the fund will be carried over into next year’s budget.

To get money from the fund, municipalities would have to meet eligibility requirements under Michigan law and rules of the Michigan State Police Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division, Dianda staff said.

Meanwhile, Schwalbach said the American Leak Detection agency – which was a state resource provided to the area without cost under the governor’s emergency declaration – is now working in Delta County, after successfully locating leaking pipes in Republic Township, Powell Township and the city of Marquette.

“They found a lot more leaks than were anticipated,” Schwalbach said.

Ishpeming and Negaunee were among the areas hit worst by the freeze, with numerous pipe and water main breaks discovered.

Swick Plumbing was awarded a state contract for work continuing at K.I. Sawyer to find leaks there.

“They (K.I. Sawyer) are still pumping out a lot more water per day than they usually are and it’s because of the asbestos concrete pipes that it’s hard to detect the leaks,” Schwalbach said.

Schwalbach said there are 32 miles of piping that needs to be checked at Sawyer.