Locals look to state for cash to help offset freeze costs

County and municipal officials in Marquette County are continuing to seek financial aid for communities whose public works department budgets were devastated by last winter’s deep freeze.

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.

However, after a federal accounting of submitted damage claims, FEMA recently said the counties didn’t meet a $13.7 million minimum cost damage threshold necessary to advance the disaster designation process, which could have brought federal funding to the region, if approved.

On Tuesday, Marquette County Emergency Management Coordinator Teresa Schwalbach told the Marquette County Board state lawmakers plan to now focus their efforts on a state bill introduced in April by state Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet, which would provide a $10 million appropriations supplement for the affected counties.

Schwalbach said Dianda’s bill languished in the legislature while lawmakers awaited the outcome of the FEMA review.

Meanwhile, the effort of some of those same Upper Peninsula government officials to gain a clear Federal Emergency Management Agency accounting and rationale for which winter costs were allowed and which were denied in the attempt to meet the minimum disaster damage threshold continues.

At this point a successful appeal or reversal of the FEMA decision seems unlikely.

While we understand that learning exactly how and why FEMA cut cost claims from those compiled by the counties can help the region respond in future potentially-disastrous events, we want the state and federal agencies and lawmakers to remain focused now on the most important issue, that of bringing financial relief to our local communities.

In addition to the money in Dianda’s bill, $6 million in Community Development Block Grants is also being made available in Michigan for 18 counties affected by the winter’s freeze problems. The nine counties in the U.P. and northern Lower Peninsula compiled damage costs totaling roughly $20 million.

Another winter is not far around the corner and we need local communities to know they have the financial resources available to face another tough season. Some public works departments had their budgets busted by the challenges posed by the freeze, some for several years to come.

Especially in an election year, we trust state lawmakers will be able to find some answers to bringing financial relief to the devastated communities in our region, including those most severely impacted here in Marquette County.