FEMA Head Meets With Mat Su Officials

A year and a half ago, a series of severe windstorms hammered Southcentral Alaska. The first toppled hundreds of trees in Anchorage, but a later storm combined with torrential rains to swell rivers and creeks in the Matanuska Valley.

 Well over one hundred Valley homes were damaged and several  were declared a total loss. The Borough  received an emergency declaration in the wake of the storm, and FEMA representatives soon arrived on scene to assist those who filed damage claims. But there have been glitches. In a meeting with FEMA adminstrator Craig Fugate, Mat Su Borough manager John Moosey said the Boro is still facing challenges due to the spread of the damage. During the storm, pockets of flooding affected the Borough from Talkeetna to Palmer

“..and it was unusual, because usually you have flooding in a smaller area. The Borough is the size of West Virginia, and it occurred in a large portion.”

 “We are going to be hurting if we don’t correct the glitches going forward”,  Moosey told a group of Borough and FEMA officails.

 Casey Cook, the Borough’s emergency response manager, outlined some problems with 2012 flood response paperwork and building plans.  Cook said it was not possible to meet a FEMA three year deadline, due to Alaska’s extremely short building season. To which Fugate responded:

 “So I’m wondering if this is something we’re driving on our end, or is this something internal. Because, I’ve got projects that go far past three years.” 

Fugate said FEMA allows extensions in paperwork and reporting all the time.

 Fugate told them thatthe Sandy Recovery and Improvement Act of last year made changes to the Stafford Act.  The Stafford act is the 1988 legislation that provides the legal authority for the federal government to provide assistance to states during major disasters.  Fugate said the changes  to the law   simplify the  repayment and reimbursement  process. Prior to the changes, FEMA could only reimburse actual costs, not cost estimates.

“Congress gave us new authorities under the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act. Where instead of now having to do everything [based on] actual cost, give me an estimate on the project. We agree that this will be for projects over a million dollars. If we agree to that, we write the project worksheet, obligate the funding at the front end, and we are done.”

 Fugate said, now if repairs cost less than estimated, the saved dollars can be used for disaster mitigation, rather than returned to FEMA.

Cook told Fugate that, during the flood emergency, the Borough spent 100 thousand dollars on emergency responders’ pay, but did not get reimbursed under the FEMA rules. FEMA does not reimburse normal working hours for Borough staff, but does reimburse overtime hours for emergency work, Fugate explained.

One big problem the Borough faces is the available flood plain mapping data.  It is not up to standard with the Lower 48,   Moosey said.

“We are behind on that, and so the new laws really don’t match up well, and kind of put people in tough spots and having to spend additional personal funds to try to correct something that should be corrected already. I think the staff will take a look at that. I believe and after our conversation that they understand what our needs our , our concerns and how we are different and how we are behind at times. “

 The Borough is relying on flood plain maps that are no longer accurate, Moosey said.  Insurance companies want accurate data when assessing flood insurance costs.  Homeowners who applied for FEMA assistance in 2012 got a nasty shock when they were informed what flood insurance costs would be if they rebuilt in a flood plain.  Up to date mapping helps to determine exactly where those flood plains are.

 Borough emergency manager Cook said that the FEMA rule  changes only apply to a few small projects  the Borough is completing.