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Local disaster relief may not be felt for a while

Governor: Area counties qualify for federal aid

By Joe Beck

Gov. Robert F. McDonnell's announcement Monday that Northern Shenandoah Valley counties are among those qualifying for Superstorm Sandy federal disaster assistance drew a low-key reaction from top local officials.

One administrator said Tuesday the amount of money available and the timing of its arrival remains unknown. Another said his county did not incur enough damage to qualify for assistance. A third county official joined the other two in citing the likelihood of a lengthy process that will delay the arrival of the money for months or even years.

McDonnell's announcement listed Warren, Shenandoah and Frederick counties among 25 local governments that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has deemed eligible for money to offset the costs of coping with Superstorm Sandy.

"I thank President Obama for his prompt decision to grant federal disaster assistance for local and state governments," McDonnell said in a press release. "This action will go a long way toward reimbursing local governments for their costs."

The FEMA money can be used to pay for expenses such as debris removal and repairs and replacements made to facilities damaged during the storm.

Frederick County Administrator John Riley said the state determines how much money a county will receive after local officials have documented their losses. Counties must produce a damage estimate from their public safety agencies and then pass it on to the state for evaluation before they receive a sum of money.

"My initial indication would be that damage was minimal, but I don't want to go out on that limb until I have a chance to talk to first responders," Riley said.

Warren County Administrator Douglas Stanley said Superstorm Sandy's effect was light enough that his county did not qualify for FEMA assistance.

"We really dodged a bullet when it came to the storm," Stanley said.

Riley and Stanley said counties seeking reimbursement from Sandy might have long waits ahead of them, if the snow emergency of 2010 is any indication. Both said the process from 2010 was longer than they had hoped it would be.

Riley said first responder agencies in Frederick County did not receive their reimbursement until two months ago.

Chief Gary Yew of the Shenandoah County Department of Fire and Rescue said the storm hit his county fairly hard.

Yew said Shenandoah County had applied for $500,000 in reimbursement, and Strasburg has applied for "just under" $1 million.

Strasburg's expenses came from damage inflicted on streets and the river walk, Yew said. The county is seeking reimbursement for fire, rescue and law enforcement activity, plus expenses for disposing of debris at the landfill and establishment of a shelter for those displaced by power outages.

Like Stanley and Riley, Yew cited his experience from the 2010 snowfall as a reason for expecting a long wait before the money arrives.

"It took almost 24 months before the county started to receive money, and I would anticipate it won't be much different this time," Yew said. "Sandy had a big impact up and down the East Coast, and there's going to be a lot of state and local entities doing the same thing as us."

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com


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