Northwest Missouri Flood Repairs Caught Up in FEMA Cash Crunch
September 5, 2011

From the St. Joseph News Press via johncombest:

As Hurricane Irene made its way into communities on the East Coast last week, State Rep. Mike Thomson, R-Maryville, couldn’t help but wonder if the hurricane would divert interest and funds away from Missouri’s disasters.

That suspicion was confirmed a week later when the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced that it would delay funds for long-term response, recovery and rebuilding projects. Gov. Jay Nixon has called on FEMA to identify which of Missouri’s disaster recovery projects could be affected. According to the governor’s news release, FEMA said in an intergovernmental advisory that the funding restrictions were necessary to “ensure that resources are available to provide emergency assistance for ongoing disasters, such as Hurricane Irene.”

Regardless of the funding delays from the federal government, the Missouri Department of Transportation will work to get the roads repaired or rebuilt when the water recedes, said Melissa Black, customer relations manager for MoDOT’s northwest district.

Ms. Black said they’ve not been promised funds, but anticipate receiving them at some point, probably 75 to 85 percent of the total cost. Interstate and U.S. route repair funding will likely come from the Federal Highway Administration, and funding for repairs to lower-volume routes will come from FEMA, she said.

Mr. Thomson, a member of the interim committee on disaster relief, tended to a small disaster of his own last week after a wind and hail storm, which took down thousands of acres of crops in Northwest Missouri, took aim on his house. But he’s also actively involved with residents in his district hit hardest by the summer-long flood in Atchison and Holt counties.

Due to the fact that much of the damage in Atchison and Holt counties is still hidden under water, assessments aren’t as forthcoming as they were in Joplin. And while Joplin’s disaster has gotten more attention than the flooding in Northwest Missouri, he is fairly certain that in the long run, the damage in Northwest Missouri will be costlier (though obviously not in human lives) than that in Joplin.

U.S. Highway 136 from Rock Port, going west across the Missouri River, is a major artery for Northwest Missouri residents heading to work at the power plant in Brownville, Neb. That road may well be destroyed. The situation has spurred numerous e-mails to Mr. Thomson, asking that he make that stretch of road a priority.

“There are a lot of roads up here that aren’t just damaged, they’re gone,” he said. “We’re not talking about potholes. They’ll have to be completely re-engineered and redone. It’s going to take a lot of time and a lot of money.”

Ms. Black said that stretch of road is a priority for MoDOT, but because most of that area is still under water, they aren’t able to give an estimate of when the road can be rebuilt. She said people like to try to make comparisons to damage caused by the flood in 1993, but that flood didn’t include three months of moving water over the roadways.

“This is our top priority, to get these roads open,” she said.

There are no ballpark guesses coming from MoDOT on the cost to repair these roads, though Ms. Black said it will be in the millions.

Mr. Thomson said one damaged levee in Holt County, in particular, could exceed $2.5 million to replace, and that’s only one levee. Farmers along the river bottom obviously won’t have a crop this year, but the floodwaters have likely dumped thousands of tons of sand and debris on the topsoil. The land may not be tillable for years, which compounds the economic impact of the flooding.

Missouri got off to a bad start in 2011 with a massive winter storm in late January, prompting an emergency declaration from President Barack Obama, making federal funds available.

Missourians affected by the severe storms and flooding have received $77.5 million in disaster grants and loans, according to FEMA and the U.S. Small Business Administration. FEMA has approved $53.4 million in disaster grants and loans to survivors of the Joplin tornado.