Disaster dollars we don't deserve

By The Gazette Editorial Board


We think the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General got it right.

Earlier this month, the OIG concluded that the Federal Emergency Management Agency should not pay the city of Cedar Rapids $13.8 million for flood damages sustained by the disabled hydroelectric plant at the 5-in-1 bridge. FEMA granted the city’s funding request after two long appeals, but the OIG says the agency made the wrong call.

That $13.8 million was not granted to fix the plant. The city has no plans to do that. Instead, the money was set to go to an “alternative project,” in this case, a downtown parking ramp.

The city got the money by arguing that it had pre-flood plans to repair the disabled hydroelectric plant, or was at least “moving in the direction” of fixing it. FEMA accepted that claim. The OIG isn’t buying it.

We understand the impulse pushing city leaders to seek all the dollars they can from federal recovery programs. Their effort to build funding structures for a multitude of complex projects are laudable.

But we think a broader view is necessary — a view that sees a nation pounded by a series of billion-dollar-plus natural disasters. along with a government awash in budgetary red ink. Viewing that larger picture, it makes no sense for FEMA to provide millions of dollars for damages to a hydroelectric plant that didn’t work and no one wants to fix.

Last month, the Center for American Progress issued a report showing that the federal government has spent a whopping $136 billion on disaster relief between 2011 and 2013. The Natural Resources Defense Council just issued a report arguing that the nearly $100 billion spent responding to droughts, storms, floods and forest fires in 2012 eclipses what was spent individually on highways and education programs. FEMA’s response makes up a sizable chunk of these dollars.

Now, with sequestration, FEMA has lost $1 billion in funding. Furloughs are on the way, just in time for hurricane season.

Against that backdrop, it’s tough to blame the OIG for raising a red flag on paying millions of dollars for a useless plant that morphed into a parking garage. The whole notion of “alternative projects” should raise many red flags.

Comments: editorial@thegazette.com or (319) 398-8262

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