State responds

MARQUETTE – State emergency management officials said Friday they submitted all costs compiled locally – including water let-run costs – from last winter’s deep freeze for disaster aid consideration, but they were rejected by Federal Emergency Management Agency officials.

Nine counties, including six in the Upper Peninsula, were jointly seeking federal disaster aid to help local governments cope with budget overruns caused by last winter’s deep freeze.

Cutting the let-run water costs dropped the counties’ total damages below a required $13.7 million threshold to be considered for a presidential disaster designation, which would bring federal funding to the region.

Some city and county officials have said recently state officials did not include the let-run costs when submitting damage reports to FEMA.

“When we submitted all the information from the local communities to FEMA, we did include those let-run costs,” said Ron Leix, public information officer for Michigan State Police Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division. “It was reported that we did not include those. That is inaccurate and it is false. Even with the inclusion of those costs, we were still short.”

Leix said after the state submitted information to FEMA, federal officials came back with two figures, one with let-run costs and one without, and they said they would not count the let-runs.

“Obviously, they’re disappointed up there (in the U.P.), as well as we are too,” Leix said. “Everybody wants a presidential declaration. It’s a financial relief. So now, we’ve got to look at other tools – what else can we do to help communities recover and rebuild after the situation that occurred this winter.”

Beyond meeting the damage costs threshold, the situation must also meet other criteria, including the definition of an emergency.

Leix said reports that state emergency management officials haven’t witnessed the damage are also false and they have a full-time officer based in Marquette. State officials have also visited the area from Lansing, Leix said.

Capt. Chris Kelenske, deputy state director of the MSP Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division, said local damage estimates totaling roughly $20 million represent unconfirmed damage projections logged into the Michigan Critical Incident Management System.

“That’s a very early estimate that the locals give the Michigan State Police Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division to kind of give us an idea of how much public and private damage has occurred during an event,” Kelenske said. “In most cases, that initial number is usually cut in half or more during disasters. … That’s typical.”

Kelenske said a virtual damage assessment began June 25, with locals submitting documentation for the costs. He said Marquette County did a good job documenting costs, but overall there was not that much documentation available to send to FEMA. Marquette County’s total surpassed the initial projection.

Leix said all provided information was submitted to the FEMA Region V office in Chicago for its assessment. FEMA concluded the counties had $10.1 million in damages, $11.4 million if the let runs were included.

The six U.P. counties affected included Marquette, Chippewa, Delta, Gogebic, Luce and Mackinac, along with Charlevoix, Cheboygan and Emmet counties in the norther Lower Peninsula.

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is jpepin@miningjournal.net. Mary Wardell’s phone extension is 248. Her email address is mwardell@miningjournal.net.