New Madrid County waits for aid with flood recovery

Monday, June 13, 2011
Water flows over the levee May 3 near New Madrid, Mo., after it was intentionally breached. New Madrid County officials are waiting to hear how much assistance will be provided by the federal government in flood recovery efforts. (Kristin Eberts)

NEW MADRID, Mo. -- It was -- and still is -- a waiting game.

New Madrid County officials watched and waited as the water inundated the county. Then waited some more as the waters began to recede.

Now, the wait is to learn how much assistance will be received.

According to New Madrid County Clerk Clement Cravens, New Madrid County public officials met last month with federal officials to establish estimates on the amount of public assistance needed to recover from May's flooding. The preliminary damage assessment put losses around $3 million for the county government and municipalities.

Much of the damage for New Madrid County was to its roads, bridges and ditches, Cravens said. The water swept away gravel from miles of rural roads and in some cases ate away at the roadbeds. At least one bridge was moved from its piling by the turbulent waters, he said.

"We know we are going to have a lot of road repair, primarily gravel," Cravens said. "There will be lots of hauling and grading. It will take a lot of man-hours to get the roads back in shape, the bridges back in shape."

Already the federal government has declared New Madrid County, along with Scott, Stoddard and Mississippi counties, federal disaster areas. According to FEMA's website, this makes the counties eligible for assistance for payment of not less than 75 percent of the eligible costs for repairing or replacing damaged public facilities, such as roads, bridges, utilities, buildings, schools, recreational areas and similar publicly owned property. The costs for removing debris from public areas and for emergency measures taken to save lives and protect property and public health can also be reimbursed up to 75 percent.

Typically, the state will also assist with the remaining 25 percent, providing another 10 percent of the costs. Those reimbursements, according to the county official, are needed.

Cravens said in a disaster as large as this one, local governments are looking at major repair costs.

"Seventy-five percent from the federal government and 10 [percent] from the state is great," he said. "But for a lot of the political subdivisions, the 15 percent is too much for them to absorb."

With so many counties facing disasters this spring -- from tornadoes sweeping through St. Louis in April to floods in early May then another round of tornadoes in Joplin and Sedalia -- Gov. Jay Nixon has requested the federal government fund 100 percent of the public assistance portion of the bill.

Scott Holste, the governor's press secretary, said the state is waiting on a response to the request.

"The governor has been very vocal that we really need a higher rate of reimbursement than normal to recover from all the disasters in Missouri," Holste said.

While there is no timeline of when the state might learn of the extent of federal funding, Holste said Thursday the secretary of Homeland Security was in the state reviewing the disaster area.

"It is strictly in the hands of federal government -- FEMA and the White House," he said. "Hopefully the answer will be yes."

Cravens, too, is optimistic.

And, he added, he understands the reason for the wait.

"We are not the only disaster right now. Everybody is getting in line," Cravens said. "We are hoping no news is good news and that it just takes a little more time than normal."

As for the federal officials, they are waiting patiently.

"FEMA will be working closely with the state and local officials in New Madrid County, Scott County and all of Southeast Missouri," said John Mills, external affairs field specialist with FEMA. "And, not just briefly but for the long haul to make sure these projects are done efficiently and effectively and that taxpayer dollars are used wisely."

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