FEMA decision doesn't feel right

In a nation reeling from disasters, funding for defunct dam seems ludicrous

Todd Dorman
Published: September 19 2013 | 6:01 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 8:39 pm in
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City leaders have to do the tough work of making the trains run, figuring out how to pay for stuff, etc. Columnists have the luxury of standing on the sideline, shaking fingers, passing judgment.

This column will be very luxurious. Yeah, it’s real leather.

I read in the paper that city leaders are downright “giddy” that FEMA has, at long last, agreed to pay the city $11.8 million to cover flood damage sustained by a mothballed hydroelectric dam. The dam won’t be fixed. Instead, the city will use the money to build a parking garage on the south end of downtown. FEMA promised the dough, got cold feet, then promised it again. Later, an inspector general declared it to be a lousy deal. Now, FEMA has reaffirmed its original contention that turning a dam into a parking garage is in the national interest.

Our giddy leaders, to be fair, have a lot of balls in the air. Juggling the financial needs of multiple recovery projects, all moving on different timelines, tied to multiple funding sources, is no small feat. So when the federal government makes that job easier, winner, winner. The city simply played by FEMA rules that allow funding for one damaged thing to be spent on an “alternative project.” Any city would, wouldn’t you?

Up here in the luxury box, however, it looks different.

From here, you can see a nation that’s been repeatedly burned, flooded, blown and baked, with billions and billions of dollars worth of heartbreaking damage to show for it. Couple that with congressional budget warfare, and it seems like the federal government’s disaster response structures aren’t exactly flush with cash. Climate scientists aren’t predicting a reprieve.

FEMA recently said no to Arizona’s request for disaster assistance tied to the Yarnell Hill wildfire, the one that killed 19 firefighters. The agency declared that the state and local communities can handle the recovery. In June, the agency denied Texas’ request for additional help for the town of West, site of a fertilizer plant explosion that killed 15. Very tough calls.

Sure, $12 million bucks doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world of trillions. But against that national backdrop, spending even one dime on that mothballed dam seems ludicrous. It seems even more so when you recall that the federal government hasn’t come through with the money needed to design and build promised flood protection in Cedar Rapids.

It doesn’t feel right. Kind of like pleather.

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