Officials from Fillmore County, area cities and townships filled the boardroom at the Preston courthouse last Thursday, Aug. 8, for a meeting hosted by the Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Information was shared about applying for federal funding, eligibility, and future HSEM/FEMA involvement.   ANTON ADAMEK/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER GROUP
Officials from Fillmore County, area cities and townships filled the boardroom at the Preston courthouse last Thursday, Aug. 8, for a meeting hosted by the Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Information was shared about applying for federal funding, eligibility, and future HSEM/FEMA involvement. ANTON ADAMEK/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER GROUP
The lower boardroom of the Fillmore County Courthouse was bustling with activity last Thursday afternoon, Aug. 8. Chairs were quickly filled by county department, city and township officials who had assembled to begin the application process for federal funding relating to the June 23 flash-flooding event.

Area news networks, staff of federal legislators, and Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management (HSEM) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) staff members filled in the remaining space.

The meeting was scheduled following a major disaster declaration by President Barack Obama on July 25 for 18 counties which sustained significant damage during storms from June 20 to 26. Fillmore County's meeting was the last to be held of the 18, with Houston's at 10 a.m. that morning.

The point of holding an applicant briefing meeting was to allow cities and townships to begin the funding application process with guidance. The meeting was also held to explain eligibility factors, funding processes and future steps in the public assistance process.

Following an introduction by Fillmore County Sheriff Daryl Jensen and about 10 other HSEM and FEMA staff members, Minnesota HSEM Deputy Public Assistance Officer Wayne Lamoreaux explained that applicants had 30 days to sign up for assistance from the time the disaster was declared. He stressed the necessity of having a D-U-N-S number, which serves as the identification number for the city, township or public entity whenever they apply for grants.

Lamoreaux told officials HSEM would be their point of contact after FEMA leaves again; they would take care of grant management, applications, eligibility concerns and general guidance of those public entities affected by the disaster.

Applicant, work and cost eligibility was addressed in a presentation by HSEM Public Assistance Officer Bill Hirte. He briefly summarized the process the county had already gone through in the FEMA-completed Preliminary Damage Assessment. A "Request for Public Assistance" form was handed out to each applicant and filled out in the meeting. Hirte explained that the contact information on the form would allow FEMA to follow-up with applicants in kick-off meetings.

These one-on-one meetings will have field staff from FEMA and HSEM work with applicants to methodically go through damages and determine funding eligibility. Hirte said applicants needed to have a map of their jurisdiction ready for the meeting with damaged areas located. A narrative explaining damaged sites, the extent of the damage and how much it will cost to fix the areas is required as well. Hirte also recommended applicants supply pictures and know the contractor who will be doing the repair work.

FEMA staff, which includes a public assistance crew leader (PAC) and project specialist (PS), will compile information obtained at the kick-off meeting into a project worksheet. The project worksheet will show damage descriptions, project eligibility and cost estimates for each location. Hirte said the PAC/PS teams will keep in contact with the applicants and get all the information they need. They will also determine what technical assistance is needed for the applicants. Due to an increased number of natural disasters in Minnesota in the past several years, Hirte said there had been an increase of staff to speed up the process.

The field staff would meet with the applicants within a week of the briefing.

In explaining the eligibility criteria and categories of work Hirte pointed out that Private Non-Profit Entities (PNP) which provide critical services such as medical treatment and communication services would be eligible for Public Assistance. A PNP must first apply to the Small Business Administration for a disaster loan before applying to FEMA.

In order to be eligible for work reimbursement, the applicant must show that the cost of their project is similar to historic costs of the same kind. The federal government, Hirte reminded people, would only be able to pay for a reasonable increase in costs. Thus, work must be contracted out and competitively bid for according to historic levels.

Eligible cost reimbursement must also include deductions from insurance. FEMA would take those numbers into account before determining eligibility. Hirte said in such cases as environmental protection damages, other agencies such as the DNR would get involved.

Work was categorized as either Emergency or Permanent work. Debris removal and implementation of emergency protective measures were under the emergency label. Debris must pose a threat to life, health and safety. Work must be shown to reduce property damage and improve economic recovery.

Permanent work is constituted by roads and bridge systems, water control facilities, public buildings and equipment, public utilities, parks and recreation and other work. Work on roads and bridges spans features associated with those projects. Eligibility of water control facilities is restricted to drainage channel, pumping facility and some irrigation facility repair. Buildings needing replacement or repair, including their contents and heavy equipment and vehicles are eligible. Water treatment and delivery systems, sewage, power and communications systems are eligible under utilities.

Hirte said emergency work must be completed within six months from the disaster declaration date. Permanent work should be completed within 18 months. An extension may be applied for if circumstances do not allow for the completion of the work, up to six months more for emergency work and 30 months more for permanent work. Other special considerations apply as it relates to historic preservation and cultural resources.

After project worksheets are completed they will be reviewed by the FEMA field office in St. Paul. Once approved, a computer generated project worksheet is created with supporting documents, which are sent to HSEM for grant processing. Any appeals in the process must be submitted to HSEM within 60 days to which FEMA has 90 days to respond.

The State of Minnesota will then grant the 75 percent eligible reimbursement due the applicant from FEMA. The state will provide a percentage of the funding for the remaining cost of the projects.

In recent years, the state has paid the remaining 25 percent. A special legislative session will be held on Sept. 9 to determine the percent that may be applied to this flooding event. Remaining funding would need to come from the applicants.

Hirte said payments should start coming into the county two months after FEMA leaves from the kick-off meetings. Any additional damages discovered would need to be reported to FEMA within 60 days of the kick-off meeting. According to the Preliminary Damage Assessment, Fillmore County sustained $17.8 million in public damages.

Reimbursement for the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program would be handled separately, since the projects would entail preparing for future disasters and not repair. Hirte explained an eligible project example would be putting riprap on the end of a culvert to prevent it from being washed out again. Repetitive damages would be eligible for this preventative work.

In addition to answering questions, HSEM left packets of information relating to equipment rates and forms.