Area storms not severe enough for U.S. funds, says aide

Posted: March 08, 2014

February's ice and snow storms cost taxpayers in Chester County about $7 million, much of it for salt, plowing, and overtime for emergency personnel.

In Montgomery County, the bill was about $8 million. Millions more were spent in Bucks and Delaware Counties.

But despite suffering one of the worst stretches of weather in its history - not to mention a mammoth number of power outages - the Philadelphia region will receive zero dollars in federal aid. That's because the weather failed to wreak enough havoc across the state.

The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency on Thursday decided against applying for federal storm relief because the state's total costs fell far below the level typically required for assistance. The damage was confined almost exclusively to the Philadelphia region.

"We're nowhere near where we need to be to ask for federal assistance," said Cory Angell, a spokesman for PEMA.

The area's storms also failed to break snowfall records, which meant communities could not count costs for plowing snow and salting roads toward the state's total damages. Eligible expenses could only include lifesaving measures, such as clearing roads of fallen trees and downed wires, plowing snow for an ambulance, or setting up an emergency shelter.

So, only half of the $8 million towns spent in Montgomery County could be counted. Towns in Chester County could factor in only $3.5 million.

The counties that put in for aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency were the four suburban counties as well as York and Lancaster. All told, they could show they suffered about $9.5 million in eligible storm costs.

It wasn't enough. The state needed to incur more than $17 million.

FEMA officials have said that states and their towns must prove they were incapable of handling the weather to receive aid, a difficult task in places that have regular winter.

Had the aid come through, Abington Township in Montgomery County, for instance, would have been eligible for $250,000 in reimbursable costs.

"This brutal winter season has had a dramatic impact on our streets and equipment," Abington Township Manager Michael LeFevre said Thursday. "FEMA funding would have been extremely helpful in our recovery."

A bill in Harrisburg would try to help Pennsylvania towns with state aid if they fail to qualify for federal assistance.

Introduced by Sen. Lisa Baker (R., Luzerne), the legislation would set aside about $16 million, generated by the Johnstown Flood Tax, to help towns that suffered unexpected costs from a catastrophe.

"In some of these communities, the damages exceed their budgets three or four times," said Diane McNaughton, a Baker aide and executive director of the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee.

610-313-8118 @Ben_Finley

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