FEMA sides with University of Iowa in flood recovery funding dispute

Homeland Security office said FEMA should not pay to replace flood-damaged UI buildings

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has officially sided with the University of Iowa in a federal dispute about funding for some flood replacement projects at the university.

FEMA's official response in the dispute "reaffirms FEMA's commitment to moving forward with replacing these important facilities," university and state officials said in a statement Thursday.

The FEMA response was to a report by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General, which in June said FEMA should not pay to replace flood-damaged Hancher Auditorium, the School of Music and Art Building East at new locations. At stake is more than $83 million in funding that has been obligated to the university for the replacement of the flood-damaged buildings at new sites.

In statements Thursday, Gov. Terry Branstad, state Board of Regents President Craig Lang and UI President Sally Mason said they are pleased FEMA backs the UI in the matter.

"Common sense seems to be gaining the upper hand in this federal policy dispute," Branstad said in a joint statement with Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds.

Branstad and Reynolds on Thursday wrote to Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano, asking for a final decision from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security "to end this federal bureaucratic squabble soon and allow the University of Iowa to fully recovery" from the 2008 floods.

UI officials are pleased with the "forceful reaffirmation from FEMA's national leadership" supporting the replacement of Hancher, the School of Music and Art Building East at new locations, Mason said.

Lang said the UI flood-recovery process has "been at intermission for too long, It is time to proceed toward the last act."

This official support from the FEMA federal office reaffirms previous decisions by FEMA Region 7 to fund replacement of those UI facilities, and it brings the UI one step closer to moving forward on the new buildings, said  Mark Schouten, administrator of the Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division.

"We stand firm in our belief that the FEMA interpretation is sound and the most cost-effective path forward," he said.

There is no definitive timeline now for a final decision on the matter, Schouten said. The Office of the Inspector General can either accept or reject FEMA's response. If it accepts it, funding for the UI projects will move forward as planned, he said. If the Inspector General rejects the response, it will go to Napolitano for the final decision.

"We hope it will happen soon," Schouten said.

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