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Long wait looms for storm aid

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

Localities that racked up costs cleaning up after last month's wind storm may end up waiting months, or even years for federal aid.

Gov. Bob McDonnell has requested federal disaster assistance to reimburse local and state governments for their costs associated with the response to the widespread storm, called a derecho, that swept through Virginia on June 29 and 30. The request also includes damage caused by the heavy thunderstorms that brought high winds and hail the evening of June 30 and afternoon of July 1.

McDonnell requested federal funds through the Federal Emergency Management Administration's public assistance program to aid 47 counties and 15 cities. The counties in the request include Clarke, Frederick, Page, Rappahannock, Rockingham, Shenandoah and Warren. Cities include Harrisonburg and Winchester. Towns typically make requests for assistance through the counties in which they are incorporated.

Across Virginia, damage estimates stand at $25 million so far, according to Bob Spieldenner, director of public affairs for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.

"It's what we think might be eligible for FEMA but we don't know for sure until we actually get the assistance and then we go through the process, which can take a number of years actually," Spielbenner said Monday.

Shenandoah County had declared a local emergency and County Administrator Douglas Walker said the resolution goes before the Board of Supervisors for ratification Aug. 14. The county incurred approximately $20,000 in costs related to overtime for workers and debris disposal

Woodstock also incurred no major costs, if any, according to Town Manager Larry Bradford.

Warren County likely faces less than $10,000 that the locality must cover, according County Administrator Douglas Stanley. The county paid some overtime to fire and rescue staff in opening cooling shelters to help people lacking power for air conditioners to deal with the extreme heat. Maintenance staff inspected roads, performed re-grading and cleared a small amount of debris in Shenandoah Farms, Stanley stated in an email. Additional costs came as residents brought brush for grinding at the transfer station.

Front Royal's Energy Services Department incurred an estimated cost of $10,000 for its response to the storm-related damage, according to Town Manager Steven Burke. That amount, subject to change as the department continues to calculate the costs, does not include time the crews spent aiding Culpeper, Burke stated in an email.

Information on Winchester's cost estimates was not available Monday.

So far, 47 jurisdictions have declared local emergencies as a result of the storms. Emergency management officials continue to compile information about the local impact. If the state receives a federal disaster declaration, additional local governments not included in the current request more can be added later, according to the release.

Many towns in the region incurred little to no cost to clean up after the storms. Stephens City workers sufficed for its efforts and as a result the locality kept costs down, according to Town Manager Mike Kehoe.

"We have to pay them to do something anyway," Kehoe said.

The storm caused the third-highest level of power outages statewide in Virginia history, according to the release. As a result, electric utilities serving the region bore the lion's share of cost to clean up after the derecho. Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative estimates efforts to restore power to their affected customers cost the utility approximately $2.5 million. Rappahannock Electric Cooperative estimated their cost at approximately $2.3 million. Costs to utilities include overtime paid to its workforce, contracting extra crews and replacing equipment, according to J. Mike Aulgur, spokesman for SVEC.

"If not the most expensive, the June 29th storm will go down as one of the most expensive weathe-related events in the cooperative's 75 year history," Aulgur stated in an email.

The storm impacted members in 18 of the 22 counties covered by REC, according to spokeswoman Ann Lewis.

"We don't expect our members to be impacted from the expenses of the recent storm," Lewis stated in an email. "We may possibly receive assistance from FEMA and we should be able to absorb the rest of the cost."

The Stephens City town office lost electricity for several days, Kehoe recalled.

"Then finally I had to call in and say 'this is police headquarters, public safety reasons.' So they weren't aware of it so they finally got it fixed," Kehoe said.

Costs eligible for federal reimbursement include activation of emergency response crews; opening of cooling centers and shelters; debris removal; repairs to publicly owned property such as roads, water and sewer systems; and damage to electrical services.

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