Lack of federal funding for winter woes unfortunate

The recent news that federal disaster relief funds wouldn’t be coming to our area to help local governments deal with deep-freeze problems last winter was not good.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency informed the Michigan State Police late last week that $10.1 million of the reported damage caused by last winter’s extended frigid temperatures were elegible for federal relief. That figure falls more than $3.5 million short of the $13.7 million threshold needed for FEMA to offer financial relief under a presidential disaster declaration.

The six affected Upper Peninsula counties – Marquette, Chippewa, Delta, Gogebic, Luce and Mackinac – and Charlevoix, Cheboygan and Emmet counties downstate submitted documentation to the state totaling $19.3 million in winter-related expenses.

As expected, local officials were not happy with the decision, and a good share of the blame for the rejection was laid squarely on state officials’ shoulders.

For example, the Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division of MSP removed the cost of thawing water laterals from the financial damages package sent to FEMA, according to Negaunee City Manager Jeff Thornton.

In addition, Marquette County Board member Greg Seppanen said the costs of “let-run” water orders were also removed from the damage estimates.

Both items were taken out because they involved private ownership of the equipment involved, rather than being publicly owned.

As pointed out by Thornton and Seppanen, if local governments hadn’t thawed laterals nor hadn’t residents kept their water flowing to prevent freeze-ups, much more costly damage would have been done to the publicly owned water mains.

We agree with the stance of local officials, both that the lateral thawing and let-run costs should have been included as well as that the state did not come through for northern Michigan.

Thornton and Seppanen said these mis-steps by state officials shows how out of touch they are with our region, basically offering lip service to the U.P. and the three downstate counties.

Perhaps they were too busy concentrating on areas of the state where there are more people who will be voting in upcoming elections.