Even as she said local waterways swollen and overflowing from recent heavy rains were receding Friday morning, Kim Carver, director of the Scioto County Emergency Management Agency (SCEMA) did not have many kind words for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Carver said many local jurisdictions still are waiting for funds to help with paying off the cost of flood repairs and flood prevention measures undertaken when high river waters threatened local communities in February and early spring 2018. She added the current process might be the “slowest paying disaster relief process” she’s seen in 30 years with SCEMA.
For example, Carver said during the recent heavy rains and accompanying flooding along lower lying areas near the Ohio River, FEMA officials told the Village of New Boston to rent pumps in order to prevent the extensive flooding they experienced when pumps failed in 2018. According to Carver, FEMA promised the federal government would reimburse the village for the cost of renting those pumps, the reason being FEMA still has not provided funds to repair and replace pumps that failed last year.
New Boston Village Administrator Steve Hamilton did not immediately respond to a phone call requesting comment for this story.
Carver said some local jurisdictions have received money from FEMA for the 2018 disaster. She did not know how much FEMA has paid out to date or how much money still eventually may be coming the way of local governments. She said at this point in the process, local jurisdictions are dealing directly with either FEMA or the Ohio Emergency Management Agency, which funnels FEMA money to local jurisdictions, according to Carver. She directed questions on actual dollar figures to the Ohio EMA.
OEMA Recovery Branch Director Lara Adcock said local jurisdictions have received $565,829 in FEMA money related to last year’s flood recovery and flood defense operations. She said as FEMA must still approve projects, it is impossible to say how many additional dollars might be headed this way. Adcock admitted FEMA’s new approval process is slowing things down, but insisted the state is writing checks as soon as approvals are given.
Jay Carey, external affairs officer for OEMA, described the approval process as the slowest “we’ve ever experienced in the state of Ohio.” Carey said he could not speak for FEMA, but did note there are 22 Ohio counties waiting on dollars. He said FEMA is taking care they do not fund projects unrelated to last year’s disaster. Adcock said FEMA promised further approvals by mid-March, meaning further dollars might be flowing into Ohio by early spring.
A FEMA spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.
As Adcock hinted, Carver seems to feel any delays in the arrival of FEMA money can be blamed on what FEMA has advertised as a new model for doling out disaster funds.
“It just doesn’t seem to be a very good model,” Carver opined, adding the area is very lucky local rivers did not get as high as expected during the recent spate of heavy rains.
The FEMA saga, if you will, really started in April 2018 when President Trump signed a declaration of emergency in connection with the downpours of last spring. Shortly after, Trump’s disaster declaration was signed, Carver already was talking about the new service model FEMA planned to use.
“In doing so, they are not staffing up as quickly as possible,” Carver said but also added, the new delivery model “is not going to mean any less money for anybody.”
Carver initially reported all Scioto County jurisdictions would be eligible for reimbursement for up to 87.5 percent of costs associated with the response and recovery to and from last year’s disaster.
Scioto County Commissioners made a local declaration of emergency on Feb. 19, 2018 when rivers were rising, and state help was requested for mitigating losses and response to protect lives and property. Then Gov. John Kasich initially declared Scioto County a disaster area in a Governor’s declaration and ultimately made some 17 other river counties eligible for state assistance Feb. 24 of last year.
In March, a formal preliminary damage assessment saw local jurisdictions turn in more than $4 million in costs for response and recovery. That figure helped the state meet the $17 million threshold needed for FEMA involvement.
As most local observers know, flooding damage last spring in Portsmouth and neighboring New Boston was obvious. In the city of Portsmouth itself, damages and expenses may have seemed somewhat less visible. Last year, Carver said the city’s expenses include everything spent on flood defense most notably the price tag for raising the city’s flood gates for the first time in 20 years. The city also operated water pumps as part of its flood defense.
Carver said Portsmouth additionally had considerable cleanup to undertake following flooding between the river and the permanent flood walls along Front Street. She said riverside parks, including the area used for the city’s annual River Days celebration, ended up underwater. Carver said the county is responsible for cleaning up parks along the river in the unincorporated area of West Portsmouth.
In New Boston, the cost of pumps were predicted as likely to be among that community’s chief expenses. At one point, Carver stated the city’s pumps failed – according to Carver, they burned up – and pumps were brought in from out of state to help with the situation.