Hope persists for presidental disaster declaration

Although the full damage caused by torrential downpour in late May is still unknown, area officials say they still desperately need federal money to repair flood damage.

Gov. Terry Branstad signed a letter Wednesday requesting that President Barack Obama declare 47 Iowa counties, including Marshall County, eligible for federal money. Estimates from federal, state and local governments puts the cost of damage eligible for aid under the Public Assistance Program near $22 million.

Kim Elder, Marshall County emergency management director, said since the county is unable to poll each household, determining the extent of the damage is difficult. However, Marshall County already meets the per capita threshold for assistance. She said Marshall County was among the worst of those hit in the state, and just the known damage has been extensive.

With county and city budgets already strained, Elder said Federal Emergency Management Agency money is necessary to ensure small municipalities can keep up with routine repairs.

“We put extra men and extra equipment on the roads,” she said. “It’s important for people to let us know the damage Some of those damages won’t become evident for a while.”

Should the president give FEMA funding the green light, Elder said local governments would still be responsible for a portion of repair costs. The exact percent was unavailable at press time.

Paul Geilenfeldt, county engineer, said preliminary estimates of damage in the county stand around $230,000. He said one of areas most affected was East Main Street, but water had washed off rock on the shoulders of various other streets as well.

Workers who maintain rock roads, as well as the public, have been reporting damage, Geilenfeldt said. Although some of the bridges already had erosion issues and needed repairs, much of the damage was not in areas already slated to be repaired. He said he anticipates continuing to discover flooding damage throughout the summer.

“There wasn’t a township in the county that didn’t have some extensive damage in one place or another,” he said. “With the May floods, there were quite a few places where there was water over the road where no one had ever seen water over the road before.”

As road crews repairs damage, Geilenfeldt said travel restrictions would be minimal, in the one-to-two-week range.

While the governor activated the Individual Assistance Program for Lee and Webster counties, Elder said the only program available for assistance in Marshall County is the Iowa Disaster Assistance grant, a $5,000 grant for low-income households. That grant is run through Mid-Iowa Community Action, 6 N. Second St., and recipients must be below 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, which is $47,100 for a family of four.

Lynn Couch, Public Works director, said damage to the roads is minimal within the city. Most of the damage sustained to city infrastructure is to the sewers and levees. Crews have already repaired two sanitary sewers that blew on North Fourth and North Fifth avenues. Several storm sewer intakes sustained damage, too.

Until the river recedes, Couch said knowing where all the damage is located is impossible. Sink holes where pipes have separated and the soil has fallen into the pipes will continue to emerge for the next four to six months. Luckily, he said, the cold of the winter months will not impede those repairs.

The city’s preliminary estimate of damage stands at $150,000.

Support for the disaster relief has been bipartisan.

In a letter to the president, Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, urged Obama to approve the governor’s request swiftly, according to a release issued by Braley’s office Thursday. The letter attracted support from all representatives in Iowa Districts 1-4, with fellow Democrat Dave Loebsack and Republicans Tom Latham and Steve King cosigning the letter.

“I’ve visited these communities and seen firsthand the damage they sustained from the storm,” Braley wrote in the release. “There is a lot of work to be done, and we need to do everything we can to make sure that communities across Iowa have the resources they need to recover and rebuild.”

Braley visited Marshalltown at the end of May to witness devastation caused by the flooding.