YC two years into securing FEMA funds
It has been more than two years since major rain storms caused significant damage to county roads in the far southeast corner of Yuma County.
The roads were fixed within about a month or so, but the county still is working on receiving its reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA).
“I’m shocked it’s been so difficult,” Yuma County Administrator Kara Hoover said recently. It has been Hoover and her staff that has had to navigate the sticky and voluminous red tape involved with accessing federal funds.
It was June 5, 2015, when a series of storms swept through southern Yuma County and northern Kit Carson County, including spawning several tornadoes that stayed in rural areas. One storm swept past Yuma, dumping more than 2 inches of rain in a short amount of time.
However, the Joes and Kirk area got hit by heavier rains, and the storms grew in intensity as they reached the Idalia area, where three to six inches of rain fell. It already had been a fairly wet spring, and the extreme downpour on June 5 resulted in more than $500,000 worth of damage to the roads in southeast Yuma County.
Plus, there had been enough damage in other areas of northeast Colorado from rains and flooding that spring, that Governor John Hickenlooper made a visit in mid-June. The Yuma County Commissioners, working with a strained county budget, signed an emergency declaration to be sent to the governor. The governor, in turn, made a statewide emergency declaration, including northeast Colorado, which eventually led to a federal declaration — freeing up FEMA funds.
The Yuma County Road & Bridge crew, led by supervisor JR Colden, did what it could to minimize the road erosion in the days after the storm. Colden, whose staff already had several projects in the works, immediately contacted several contractors. He said recently that three showed interest, and all three were hired.
“We had it all wrapped up in about 30 days,” he said
He spent a solid two days documenting the damage and taking photos. When FEMA did arrive to do its assessment, the federal bureaucrats complimented the county on being so well prepared.
So it was a good start dealing with FEMA. Plus, Hoover stressed the local FEMA representatives have been “amazing.” It’s when one gets to the state and federal levels, however, that it begins to get complicated.
Yuma County began submitting September 2015, and Hoover’s office still is doing so.
She explained that FEMA broke down the repair work into three three projects — one at $146,000, a second at $132,000 and a third at $112,000. Anything above $122,000 is considered a “large” project.
The good news is one project fell into the “small” category.
“That was a blessing because we just had to ask for the monies,” Hoover said. “We had our money that year. There was nothing that difficult.”
However, the large projects have introduced Hoover and her staff to the complexity of trying to secure federal funds.
She said paperwork is submitted online through a special FEMA website. The submittals go through a state supervisory review where additional documentation is gathered, once the state is satisfied, then the large projects are advanced on to FEMA for their review. Currently, the two large projects, are in the close-out process with FEMA, awaiting completion and any additional documentation requirements.
One of the county’s biggest problems was how it procured contractors. FEMA did not consider this incident to be an emergency. A year and a half later FEMA informed the County that they should have followed the government’s procurement requirements for contractors. These non-emergency requirements included hiring women and minority contractors — though one of the three used did fit that criteria, Hoover said.
Colden said the work has required nitty-gritty details on everything which “created a lot of extra work for Kara.”
“It’s been cumbersome at best,” Hoover said, adding that in some respects she understands and appreciates FEMA’s documentation requirements before releasing funds.
She said all the extra time and work required to receive the federal funds probably has ended up costing more than the difference between the $122,000 threshold for large projects and what the county will receive for them.
As for the federal funds, FEMA reimburses up to 75 percent of the project costs. Hoover said the county has received $186,000 to date, and still has $22,000 to go. The county has been in “close out” for 107 days on one project.
However, the county has come this far, and is going to see it through to the end.
The heck of it is, Hoover said she now wishes she would have taken the advice of her counterparts in neighboring Washington County, which had accessed FEMA funds for a 2012 storm, and was just wrapping that up when Yuma County started down the path.
“They said ‘don’t do it,’” Hoover shared wistfully. “I figured it couldn’t be that bad.”