Cumberland Times-News

July 3, 2014

County pleads case for flood relief

Officials seek reconsideration of FEMA request

Matthew Bieniek
Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND — Allegany County commissioners are pleading with a state agency to reverse its decision to deny approval of a flood relief request to the federal government on the basis that a state damage threshold sets unrealistic rules for rural counties. The flooding occurred after heavy rains on June 12.

State officials said late last week that they would not forward the relief request to the Federal Emergency Management Agency because the damage totals didn’t meet certain requirements.

Commissioners sent the letter Thursday. It was signed by commission president Mike McKay. The letter was sent to Ken Mallette, the executive director of the Maryland Emergency Management Agency. The letter asks for a waiver of the requirements for a flood relief declaration. Allegany County documented much more than the $262,000 in damages required for the local threshold, but was not able to meet the state threshold, even with Washington County’s damages added.

“The public assistance declaration threshold for the state of Maryland is approximately $8,000,000. We respectfully request, however, that this event be reconsidered for assistance as the two counties, whose combined population represents only four percent of the state’s population, preliminarily met 40 percent of the state’s threshold amount, which is also based on the state’s population,” McKay wrote.

McKay said the rule is unfair.

“Allegany County believes that the state threshold criteria should not be utilized to determine the county’s eligibility for public assistance, as the threshold represents an unrealistically high benchmark for damages sustained by a rural county,” McKay wrote.

Flood damage in the county may increase beyond the already documented $1.7 million, McKay said.

“Estimates to repair flood damaged public infrastructure initially topped $1.7 million dollars; we believe this figure will increase. Several schools, churches, Rocky Gap State Park, a volunteer fire department, and many roads and bridges require repair, including the historic Oldtown Bridge which was completely destroyed by the storm,” McKay wrote.

The low water bridge in Oldtown may be out of commission for “several months,” according to the owner of the company that runs the bridge.

“We are still in the damage assessment stage,” Lori Roberts has said. She owns the bridge through her company, Historical Oldtown Bridge Preservation, LLC. The bridge crosses the Potomac River between Oldtown and Green Spring, W.Va., and is the only crossing of the river for 15 miles in either direction.

Some areas in the county reported up to 5 inches of rain and some of the worst flood damage occurred in Cresaptown and at Cumberland’s Greene Street underpass. The request for disaster funds is made through the state, and state emergency services officials have said the combined damages do not add up to Maryland’s state threshold of $8 million needed to obtain disaster funds, said Dick DeVore, county director of emergency services. Allegany County, including the city, tallied $1.7 million in flood damage and Washington County reported a similar amount, said DeVore.

Among the most serious damages in the county were those to the Cresaptown Volunteer Fire Department and Calvary Baptist Church and Calvary Christian Academy. Damages also affected individual homeowners, McKay said.

“Approximately 175 residences were also impacted by the storm, including several homes where the foundation was swept away, leaving those homes uninhabitable. Additional residences have since been identified that have been deemed unsafe for continued habitation as a result of storm damage. The affected families do not have flood insurance and their homeowner’s insurance providers have denied their claims,” McKay wrote.

The fire department reported about $300,000 in damages and the church and school reported $275,000, DeVore said.

Commissioners have not received an immediate reply from state officials.

Matthew Bieniek can be contacted at mbieniek@times-news.com.