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FEMA denies funding for destruction caused by flash floods

The second disaster in two years has Washington County again shifting into recovery mode, but the process will be far from the same this time around.
“It’s way different from the tornado relief (last year) because FEMA is not involved,” Mayor Dan Eldridge said last week during briefings on the flash floods that came through earlier this month.
County leaders received final word the federal organization will provide no assistance due to the county’s not meeting the minimum threshold of $8.2 million in damage to public infrastructure.
“Another big difference is (lack of) insurance,” Eldridge said.
Only one resident and one business out of the dozens damaged had flood insurance, he noted.
The county’s long-term recovery plan will rely on a combination of grant resources, private funding, low-interest loans and volunteer labor.
To be considered for assistance, residents and commercial businesses must register with the U.S. Small Business Administration. An SBA office will be open on the first floor of the Washington County Courthouse from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Thursday, Aug. 30, which is the final date to apply.
Troy Ebbert, of the county zoning office, said the initial damage assessment included 120 families. Those who are eligible for assistance will be contacted, though there is a limit.
“We’re not taking care of driveways that were washed out,” Eldridge said, for example.
Applications will be forwarded to Eastern Eight Community Development Corp., which will serve as the funding coordinator for the resources.
“In conjunction with the Bank of Tennessee, Eastern Eight will accept the grant funds and pay the invoices,” Eldridge said, noting no money will go directly to those receiving assistance. “We need to keep all of the money in one organization to track the use because every dollar must be receipted.”
The county was approved for participation in the Federal Home Loan Bank of Cincinnati’s Disaster Recovery Program, which offers up to $20,000 toward the purchase or repair of primary residences for families who meet the criteria.
This program was identified by Congressman Phil Roe’s office when the county realized its chances of FEMA funding were not good.
A disaster declaration was needed to qualify for the DRP program.
“They wanted a federal declaration from FEMA, but agreed to accept the SBA’s declaration, which is another reason for those impacted to register,” he said. “It puts you in line for all the other programs.”
Applications will be reviewed on a first-come, first-served basis, and two of the funding sources are restricted to those with very low income who are 60 years of age and older.
County residents who have the income or the means to borrow will not be eligible for grant funds.
“We’re concentrating on the families who do not have the means to do it themselves,” Eldridge said. “These are the last dollars rather than the first dollars because of the lack of FEMA and insurance.”
The third element of recovery involves volunteer resources, with five faith-based entities already fully engaged.
“We have a great team assembled,” Eldridge said. “A tremendous volunteer effort is already on the ground with more on the way.”
Eldridge said it is not insignificant that the vast majority of money that will be put into this effort is private.
“The cost will be in the millions, but (the need) will be addressed locally and paid for with private dollars,” he said.
Roe’s office also helped the county receive a $125,000 grant to purchase a truck that can be used to pick up brush and debris along roadsides and within the affected stream.
Using the equipment will be much safer than employees and volunteers picking it up by hand, leaders said.
Most of the 46 mobile homes that suffered irreparable damage will have to be demolished, according to Eldridge.
Any organization or resident doing so must first contact the mayor’s office at 753-1666 for a title check to ensure there are no liens on the mobile home.
Eldridge said he is cautiously optimistic the recovery could be completed in nine months.