County Officials Hear Storm Expenses May Be Nearing Threshold for Federal Aid

County and state out-of-pocket expenses must add up to at least $7 million for FEMA to petition the president for a disaster declaration.

by Kirsten Fiscus, The Anniston Star, Ala. / April 4, 2018

(TNS) — Calhoun County commissioners heard Tuesday that the cost to replace one building on Jacksonville State University’s campus could push out-of-pocket tornado-recovery expenses over the $7 million threshold needed for federal funding.

Seriously if not irreparably damaged in the March 19 tornado was Merrill Hall, where the university’s business curriculum has been taught. It was one of dozens of campus buildings damaged by the EF-3 tornado, as were hundreds of Jacksonville-area homes.

JSU spokeswoman Buffy Lockette said the university has approximately $26.5 million in insurance coverage for Merrill Hall and its contents, but it could take as much as $28-$32 million to replace the building.

However, she said in a written statement Tuesday evening, “We are insured for cost not replacement. If JSU's Board of Trustees and its President make the decision to construct a new business building, we will likely have to contribute a few million dollars — obtained from fundraising, reserves or a bond issue — to rebuild a new building today comparable to Merrill Hall.”

County and state out-of-pocket expenses must add up to at least $7 million for FEMA to petition the president for a disaster declaration.

Jonathan Gaddy, director of the Calhoun County EMA, said by phone that the best estimates of damage costs would be the university’s.

“We are getting soft estimates,” he said. “What we’re working with is strictly what we’ve heard.”

The commission also unanimously agreed to sign a memorandum of understanding with the state allowing DRC Emergency Services to pick up debris along Alabama 21, Alabama 204 and U.S. 431. The commission previously approved a contract with the Texas-based company three days after the tornado swept through Calhoun County.

Each load of debris goes toward the costs of cleanup, increasing the chances the state will meet the $7 million threshold needed for federal funding to kick in, Calhoun County engineer Brian Rosenbalm said.

Nearly 930 loads of vegetative debris have been hauled from Jacksonville and surrounding county land since Wednesday evening, Rosenbalm said.

“That’s over 47,000 cubic yards of debris,” he said. “DRC initially estimated there was over 200,020 cubic yards of debris, but they think now that number will be well over 300,000.”

If that $7 million threshold is met, the faster debris is removed and disposed of, the more money FEMA will reimburse, Rosenbalm said.

“They operate under a sliding scale,” he said. “From the day of the incident we have 30 days and if we finish what we need to within that 30 days FEMA will reimburse us up to 85 percent.”

If the work is completed between 31 and 60 days, FEMA will reimburse 80 percent and 75 percent after 60 days, Rosenbalm said.

“I think the fact that this commission and the city of Jacksonville were so proactive with contracts in place, it’s allowed us to jump on this and possibly take advantage of the higher percentages,” Rosenbalm said.

Commission chairman Lee Patterson still questioned the time the county took to get DRC here.

“We lost several days,” he said.

“In this case, in this scenario, we have moved at a radical pace,” Rosenbalm said. “You see where we’ve lost four or five days, but I see where we’ve gained a month compared to the 2011 incident.”

Having those contracts and disaster plans in place will also make the county eligible for a one-time, 2 percent increase if there is a federal disaster declaration.

“So I can see us potentially getting upwards of 87 percent in reimbursement,” Rosenbalm said.

?Staff writer Kirsten Fiscus: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @kfiscus_star.


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