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Agencies begin applying for water crisis reimbursement

By David Gutman, Staff writer

Public agencies have about three more weeks to submit their applications if they want federal money for costs they spent in responding to the January water crisis.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency approved the aid last week and, with state officials, held a meeting Wednesday to tell agencies how to apply and how much aid they might get.

The assistance is only available to government bodies and certain non-profits, like volunteer fire departments, that perform governmental functions. It is not open to individuals or businesses.

Greg Myers, who is overseeing the process for the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, estimated that in total, government agencies would be eligible for about $2 million in reimbursements, but he stressed that number was probably low.

“Normally when we have an emergency event, the estimate goes up,” Myers said.

Eligible applicants — there were about a dozen at the meeting, including the Charleston Fire Department, the City of South Charleston and Metro 911 — can get reimbursement for overtime hours worked, equipment that they used responding to the water crisis and other costs they may have incurred. They will only be eligible for actions they took between Jan. 9, when the Elk River chemical leak was discovered, and Jan. 20.

Once requests are submitted, FEMA representatives will hold meetings with each applicant to try to pin down the costs.

“The sooner we can get the kickoff meeting, the sooner we can get money out to you,” said Nancy Morgan, a Charleston-based FEMA representative.

The Kanawha County Emergency Ambulance Authority spent about $45,000 responding to the crisis in those first 12 days, according to Jeff Harbour, an administrator for the ambulance authority.

Most of that money — about $30,000 — was spent paying employees to work overtime during that time, Harbour said.

But the authority will also apply for reimbursement for the equipment it used.

FEMA has very specific guidelines for how much that reimbursement can be. For instance, for use of its ambulances in the water crisis, the ambulance authority can get $25.50 per hour for ambulances up to 150 horsepower, or $32.50 an hour for ambulances up to 210 horsepower.

The ambulance authority also used forklifts, to load pallets of bottled water onto ambulances and other vehicles. Depending on the size of the forklift, there are four separate categories, FEMA will reimburse anywhere from $11.75 per hour to $50 per hour.

FEMA will pay 75 percent of all approved reimbursement costs, while the state will be on the hook for the other 25 percent. The state will act as administrator, distributing all the funding.

FEMA initially declined Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s request for aid, known as “emergency protective measures.” Tomblin appealed that decision, and FEMA approved that appeal, while turning down a different application that would have declared the water crisis a “major disaster.”

“We fought pretty hard to get this one, so we want to get as much reimbursement as we possibly can,” Myers said.

Reach David Gutman at david.gutman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.


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