Federal aid OK’d

Published 3:00 am Saturday, January 23, 2016

A federal disaster declaration means city and county officials can begin the process for applying for assistance from FEMA this week.

President Obama on Thursday declared a major disaster exists in Alabama and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the area affected by severe storms and flooding Dec. 23-31, 2015.

For Pike County, that means federal funds may be available to help with the more than $1.75 million in necessary repairs after heavy rains damaged roads and bridges in the county, Troy and Brundidge.

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“We’ve got an applicant briefing with FEMA officials on Thursday at 9 a.m. in the commission meeting room for county and municipal representatives,” said Jeanna Barnes, Pike County EMA director. “We will know more about the process, availability of funds and timeline after this applicant briefing.”

Brundidge officials identified nine sites with an estimated repair cost and Troy officials 13 sites, with estimated repair costs of more than $363,000.

But Pike County roads sustained the bulk of the damage. County Engineer Russell Oliver said his crews had identified 175 sites damaged by the rainfall, which totaled more than 15 inches in some areas of the county. He estimated the cost to repair those sites at $1,394,673, and anticipation of having to fund these unbudgeted repairs already has forced the county commission to reject financial aid requests from county organizations.

“This is good news,” Oliver said Friday of the federal disaster declaration. “It means that we will be able to apply for assistance from FEMA.”

County crews have worked to reopen and at least temporarily repair most of the 175 damaged sites. As of Friday, only seven roads remained closed and two additional roads were restricted to traffic in only one lane.

“Most of the repairs we’re doing now are pretty much temporary in nature,” Oliver said.

“We’re trying to get the roads open and safe, and we’re holding off on permanent repairs until we know what kind of help we’re going to get from FEMA.”

After the briefing this week, FEMA officials will work with each government entity to hold a kickoff meeting and assess damage at each site. Barnes said she could not provide any timeline for the meetings or reimbursement, hoping those questions would be answered at Thursday’s meeting.

“We’ll know more after this,” she said.

According to the announcement from the White House, federal funding is available to state, tribal, and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by the severe storms, tornadoes, straight-line winds, and flooding in the counties of Autauga, Barbour, Blount, Bullock, Butler, Chambers, Cherokee, Clay, Cleburne, Coffee, Colbert, Conecuh, Covington, Crenshaw, Cullman, Dale, DeKalb, Elmore, Escambia, Fayette, Franklin, Geneva, Henry, Houston, Jackson, Lamar, Lawrence, Lee, Lowndes, Macon, Marion, Marshall, Monroe, Perry, Pike, Russell, St. Clair, Walker, and Winston.

Federal funding is available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures statewide.

W. Craig Fugate, Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Homeland Security, named Elizabeth Turner as the Federal Coordinating Officer for federal recovery operations in the affected area.

In addition, the U.S. Small Business Administration is offering low-interest disaster loans. The loans are available in Pike County because it is adjacent to Coffee County, which sustained significant flooding damage.

The SBA Disaster Loan Outreach Center in Coffee County is located at the Elba Church of Christ, 715 N. Troy Highway. It is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays, today through Feb. 4.