• Last modified 72 days ago (May 9, 2024)


Not knowing rules cost county disaster windfall

Staff writer

Inexperience among department heads who didn’t know what could be counted as storm damage cost Marion County hundreds of thousands of dollars in disaster relief.

Three bordering counties were selected for Federal Emergency Management Administration money to mitigate the cost of storm damage from heavy snows Jan. 8 to 16.

Marion County did not receive any FEMA money because every countable loss was not explored.

Emergency manager Marcy Hostetler said last week that she didn’t know water saturation was damage countable toward emergency assistance.

Morris County road and bridge supervisor Jeff Falter said that soon after January snowstorms blocked roads and repeatedly covered them over with blowing and drifting snow, he reached out to the Kansas Department of Emergency Management.

Several categories of damage can qualify a county for federal disaster relief money.

Morris County didn’t qualify for snow removal overtime costs nor for freezing and thawing, but it did qualify when ground saturation was calculated.

Shelly Lautt, Morris County road and bridge co-supervisor, said each county had to meet its own disaster threshold.

“We have to have $5,386 damage,” Lautt said.

Marion County’s threshold was $54,385.80.

It claimed road damage caused by saturation under the road bed, Lautt said.

The county saw a temperature difference of close to 70 degrees in a day, she said.

“Gravel roads had the most damage in Morris County,” she added.

The Kansas Department of Emergency Management sent out a request for damage estimates, and after she estimated damages, the department asked for an impact statement, which Lautt sent.

“I kept telling them we had to have some help,” Lautt said.

The department and a couple of Federal Emergency Management Agency representatives people went to Morris County to review the damages.

“When FEMA did come down, we already had pictures because we were in the process,” Falter said. “We broke it into categories based on the size of the areas that were saturated.”

The cost of clearing snow didn’t count as storm damage, she said. KDEM considers snow clearing to be ordinary maintenance, not disaster fodder.

“The saturation was still caused by the snow,” Falter said.

Morris County was approved for a large amount of FEMA money.

“We should be getting back roughly around $830,000,” Lautt said.

Thom Kirk, road and bridge director for Chase County, said he didn’t yet know how much money his county would get from FEMA.

Chase County’s early estimate of damage was $250,000 to $300,000.

Kirk anticipates getting $150,000 to $200,000 from FEMA.

After the county provided information on storm damage, two KDEM employees and two FEMA employees came to tour county roads, Kirk said.

Kirk said damage to roads and bridges, water facilities, parks and recreation facilities, and public buildings counted toward disaster assistance.

Cities also could qualify for FEMA assistance for the same things.

Some of Chase County’s damage was dealing with snow drifts, Kirk said.

The road and bridge department there has about 20 employees, and the only outside help the county had was haulers for road rock.

Marion County road and bridge supervisor Steve Hudson said he didn’t find any structural damage other than damage to roads that were in poor condition before the storm.

Roads that didn’t have enough rock to begin with were damaged, he said.

That damage didn’t add up to enough to turn in a report seeking emergency help, he said.

KDEM contacted Marion County, and Hostetler emailed the request for information to county and city department heads.

Usually the road and bridge department is quick to respond to such inquiries, she said.

The department turned in information on overtime hours, but there was not enough to qualify the county for FEMA money, she said.

Commissioner Randy Dallke expressed concern at Monday’s county commission meeting about Marion County’s failure to apply.

“It’s good to go back to different counties and see how other things are put out,” Dallke said. “The only thing I could come up with is Marcy forgot some things to do. Hopefully we’ll do better in how to get these filled out.”

Last modified May 9, 2024