Late last Thursday the Governor announced he was requesting a federal disaster declaration from President Obama for damage related to the storm of late September.
The governor’s request came on the heels of more than two weeks’ worth of work by many to collect damage estimates from the storm and analysis of the damage by the Wisconsin Department of Emergency Management. Representatives Danou and Radcliffe and I sent a written request for the declaration that highlighted the need to include counties in Western Wisconsin.
In his written request to the President, the Governor detailed the damage to public structures.
“The impacts of the flooding on the infrastructure are devastating,” the Governor wrote. “Hundreds of town and county roads which are not on the federal aid system have been damaged... Culverts were washed out as normally calm streams and tributaries turned into rushing torrents... .In some cases raging waters came within inches of bridges, forcing them to be closed and causing damage.”
The Governor also mentioned damage to storm and sanitary sewers, recreational trails and parks, state, county and local highways and a state office building inundated with flood waters. He concluded his review of the damage by describing the storms of August and their impact.
“These events illustrate the tremendous burden that the citizens of the State have already shouldered this year and point to the need for federal assistance to help ease some of that burden for this latest disaster.”
If the President declares a major disaster for the state, the federal government will assist eligible recovery efforts with 75% funding from the feds matched by 12.5% state and 12.5% local money. Towns, cities and villages can use volunteer labor and equipment in recovery efforts as a ‘soft match’ or in-kind contribution to make up all or part of their portion of the matching dollars.
The first step will involve local meetings called an “applicant briefing” where local officials will learn about FEMA procedures and be asked to file a Request for Public Assistance. Officials from FEMA will meet with each applicant to go over eligible damage and create a plan for repair called a “project worksheet”. The worksheet is turned in to the regional office and it begins the reimbursement process, which can take up to 18 months, for repairs to be completed and for local government to be paid.
As I joined FEMA officials on visits to various locations to review the damage, I learned a great deal about their very strict rules and that what I consider to be pretty extensive damage is not so in the eyes of FEMA.
The Governor’s request for a presidential disaster declaration is based on damage estimates collected during the most recent FEMA visit. While damage estimates are just that - estimates - the official FEMA estimates are lower than the actual amount of damage and do not include all of the damage in our area.
Some towns were not able to report damage by the time FEMA made its visit to the counties to collect damage estimates. In addition, damage estimates do not include that to private homes and businesses.
Many homes in our area were covered with debris. Many homeowners lost appliances and personal items - especially in flooded basements. Gold ‘N Plump and Ashley Furniture and many smaller businesses had significant non-insured loses.
But FEMA rules related to private damage require “major damage” in 25 homes or businesses in order to apply to the federal government for “individual assistance” - help available for private people and businesses.
And FEMA’s rules count only severe structural damage, like the loss of walls, as “major damage’. I found it incredible that eight feet of water and completely destroyed appliances was considered by FEMA as “minor damage”.
Local officials and I will continue to work to find assistance for local government and private individuals but having a presidential disaster declaration will go a long way to help local governments find the dollars to repair the roads, bridges and infrastructure upon which we all depend.
To view the Governor’s entire letter to the President go to: http://www.wisgov.state.wi.us/docview.asp?docid=20488