Canton Repository

January 27, 2005

Taft expected to ask for federal flood aid Friday

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON — Gov. Bob Taft is expected to apply for federal aid Friday on the heels of the worst flood damage in Ohio history.

Although assessment of the damage was still under way, officials said as many as 59 counties, including Stark and Tuscarawas, could be eligible for federal grants or loans.

It’s possible that Stark and Tuscarawas would not be included in Taft’s initial request because prolonged flooding in those counties has delayed assessment of the damage, said Rob Glenn, spokesman for the Ohio Emergency Management Agency.

If that turns out to be the case, the two counties could always be added to the aid request when assessments are complete.

Severe snow and ice storms and heavy rain generated flooding earlier this month that has caused tens of millions of dollars in damage across the state.

Taft will seek a disaster declaration from President Bush that would make the counties eligible for federal aid. The governor earlier declared a state of emergency in 59 of the state’s 88 counties as a result of flooding and snow and ice damage.

In addition to Stark and Tuscarawas, other counties that could be included in the request include Wayne, Holmes, Cochocton, Guernsey and Columbiana.

Glenn said the Ohio Emergency Management Agency expects to send its assessment to the governor’s office by Friday.

After Taft faxes his request to the federal government, it could take days or weeks before Bush would issue a disaster declaration. The letter and documentation would go first to the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, which would evaluate the information before sending it to the White House.

Until the assessment is complete, Glenn could not say which counties would be included in the request.

Stark and Tuscarawas were the last counties to be assessed “simply because the water has not receded to a point yet where we’ve been able to get out and actually inspect the damage,” he said. “We know that there’s been some severe impact in that area.”

Damage to government facilities, businesses and individual property must be documented to meet a “threshold” required for federal aid.

Depending on the damage in a particular county, aid can include grants to local and state governments, grants and low-interest loans to individuals, and low-interest loans to businesses. Local governments also might be eligible for hazard mitigation funds to lessen the impact of future natural disasters.

“We are most concerned about people’s housing and whether they have a safe secure place to live,” said FEMA spokeswoman Linda Sacia.

Grants could cover replacement of a damaged furnace, for example, but not loss of furniture or stereo equipment.

Rep. Bob Ney, R-St. Clairsville, sent a letter urging Bush to declare a federal disaster in counties in his congressional district that were soaked by the storms.

“The effects of these storms are of such magnitude that an effective response is beyond the capabilities of the local governments,” he wrote to the president. Ney added that neither the counties nor the state “has the resources to respond effectively” to the flooding.

Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, has been in touch with federal and state officials regarding the flooding, his office said. He planned to send letters urging a presidential declaration as soon as Taft files his request.