CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Two days after the Federal Emergency Management Agency denied Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's request for further financial assistance for West Virginia's ongoing water crisis, a shipment of bottled water sent by FEMA was removed from three Kanawha County schools because of odor and taste problems.
The bottled water was described as "musty," with a "strong odor" and "a problem with the taste," according to a news release from the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department and Kanawha County Schools. The water issues were related to storage, not the coal-cleaning chemical Crude MCHM, which tainted the region's drinking water.
FEMA has been providing bottled water and other assistance since soon after the Elk River chemical leak was detected on Jan. 9, contaminating the drinking water of 300,000 people in parts of nine counties. On Wednesday, though, the agency refused to provide further money to reimburse local and state agencies that have spent millions of dollars responding to the water crisis.
In a letter, Elizabeth A. Zimmerman, a FEMA administrator, told Tomblin that, "Based on our review of all of the information available, it has been determined that the event was not of such severity and magnitude as to warrant grant assistance under this emergency declaration."
Although the letter was dated Monday, the news was not made public until Tomblin sent out a news release Wednesday morning saying he would appeal the decision. He has 30 days to do so.
In the release, the governor said he is "extremely disappointed by FEMA's initial response, and I share the frustration and anger of West Virginians who have endured this crisis."
Tomblin had requested the additional funding for emergency assistance in a letter to FEMA sent on Jan. 27.
The governor estimated that state and local agencies will spend more than $2 million responding to the water crisis. In addition, the state taxpayers will pay 25 percent of the costs of the FEMA aid already provided.
Tomblin's letter requested additional aid, called Category B, Emergency Protective Measures. Those are defined by FEMA as, "activities undertaken by a community before, during and following a disaster," that are necessary to reduce an immediate threat to life, health or safety.
"This is necessary due to the extraordinary expenditures incurred by state and local responding agencies and the adverse effects on the economy and tax revenues," Tomblin wrote. "I must emphasize that the response is ongoing and several of the key agencies have not been able to take the time to provide estimates of their costs.
"One source has estimated that hotels and restaurants have lost $1 million in revenue a day, while other businesses have had to close part of their operation."
Had FEMA approved Tomblin's request, they would have paid 75 percent of eligible costs for first responders, local and state governments, as well as certain nonprofit agencies, according to Amy Shuler Goodwin, Tomblin's communications director.
FEMA spokesman Dan Watson said the agency provided about 7 million liters of water and more than 130,000 meals during the initial response to the spill. Watson said FEMA officials decided the state didn't need any additional help.
"While the initial emergency declaration was approved and resources were provided to support the immediate response, it was determined in this case certain costs associated with the response and recovery efforts were not beyond the response and recovery capabilities of state and local governments," Watson said.
Tomblin said he is working with members of the state's congressional delegation to appeal the decision and get further help from FEMA. "I promised the people of West Virginia I would look out for them and do all that I can to protect their health and well-being," Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va, said in Tomblin's news release. "My priority remains getting the state the resources it needs from FEMA and the White House to assist West Virginians during this ongoing crisis."
"I will continue to urge FEMA to provide our state with the assistance it needs to address the consequences of the spill," echoed Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he urged, "FEMA to reconsider their decision and work as a partner with the people of West Virginia."