The subject arose at a recent session of the Cleveland Board of Public Utilities when President and CEO Tom Wheeler, and Vice President of Finance Ken Webb, announced that storm recovery costs to the local utility from last year’s severe weather outbreak — as previously reported by our newspaper — have approached $2.7 million.
To the dollar, the estimated amount is $2,688,382. Based on latest reports, CU is projecting a reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) of about 75 percent and 12.5 percent from the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA). This would constitute roughly an 87.5 percent payback which is considered good news for the local public utility.
Such a reimbursement is being made possible by virtue of Bradley County being declared one of several federal disaster areas following the late-April storms.
Obviously, CU is only one of a few entities awaiting FEMA and TEMA reimbursement of a portion of their storm costs. Local governments, including Bradley County, are waiting patiently for their aid.
Of CU’s $2.7 million in storm-related expenses, it is being estimated some $2.2 million has qualified for reimbursement.
Exactly when the check will be in the mail is an unknown.
Like the U.S. government and its $16 trillion debt, FEMA is cash-strapped as well. One need not look far to understand the answer. Debilitating storms, and an unprecedented number of tornadoes nationwide last April, are mostly to blame.
Although storm activity has slowed since last year’s devastation, it has not stopped altogether. Other communities, especially those in the Plains and Midwestern states, have continued to come under attack by Mother Nature’s fury.
Many towns and counties, including our own, have paid the ultimate price; that of human life. Last April’s twisters alone leveled 285 homes in Bradley County and damaged hundreds of others, not including moderate to severe damage, or total annihilation, to 10 businesses. Some have not reopened, nor will they. Thankfully, most have rebounded and today are integral parts of our community’s return to a “New Normal.”
Currently, Cleveland Utilities is expecting its first reimbursement check in the mail later this month. It is expected to be for $1,255,109. The remainder will not be sent until FEMA inspectors confirm work submitted meets federal standards.
This will be a lengthy process because much repair work must be inspected and FEMA staffs only so many field inspectors. Webb told utility board members he is not aware of a payment timetable for the final reimbursement amount.
Certainly, all involved hope for a quick resolution, but FEMA is being asked to tend to the needs of many local and state government entities which have been impacted by last April’s storms as well as many others occurring since that time.
It goes without saying. Governments and affected entities want payment so they can pay their own bills. But in this case, patience truly will be a virtue.
Any who would question why storm-related costs to CU have grown so high need only to be reminded of these eye-openers. Last year’s tornadoes destroyed 25 percent of CU’s power grid, shutting down electrical power to 17,000 customers. Yet within 11 days, local crews and out-of-town teams had restored service to all homes that could be reconnected.
It was truly a gallant effort, but one that came with a price tag. CU was responsible for labor, housing, food and other incidental expenses, including overtime, for the responding workers from Florida, Kentucky, Georgia and from across Tennessee.
This is standard practice within the utility industry during times of emergency response. CU crews are afforded the same support when they respond to out-of-town pleas for help.
The fury of a tornado is unparalleled.
Its damage to a budget is even worse.