116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS - It's not every day that city officials organize a tour of the sewage treatment plant.
The city's Utilities Department, though, did just that on Monday for the local news media as it celebrated the Federal Emergency Management Agency's decision to side with the city on appeal and to pay most of the city's claims related to flood damage in 2008 to the incinerator at the city's sewage treatment plant.
FEMA's regional office in Kansas City, Mo., had rejected a first appeal over some of the incinerator repair costs, but the city now has succeeded on most of the issues on a second appeal to FEMA's headquarters in Washington, D.C.
The dispute centered on about $8 million in incinerator repairs for which the city had paid with the understanding that FEMA would reimburse the city.
FEMA, though, re-evaluated the damage to the equipment along the way and decided some of the equipment had not sustained damage because of the flood.
Steve Hershner, the city's utilities director, said FEMA now has approved payments for the bulk of the work, and he estimated that the payment will exceed $7 million.
City Manager Jeff Pomeranz called it a $6 million to $8 million win for the city.
'It's a big thing,” the city manager said.
The city received formal notice of FEMA's decision late last week, he said.
FEMA has spent many millions of dollars to repair other flood damage at the city's sewage treatment plant, including some money to repair the plant's incinerator.
In addition, federal funds are paying for the bulk of the work, now underway, to build a system of levees and flood walls around the plant to protect against another flood.
The dispute with FEMA over the $8 million in repairs to the plant's incinerator was only part of the bad news related to disaster payments for the incinerator.
In a first FEMA assessment at the plant, which was knocked offline by the 2008 flood, FEMA officials determined that the city qualified both for payment to fix the incinerator and for an additional $35 million to $40 million to build a new replacement incinerator.
The subsequent FEMA assessment not only cut the amount of funds that FEMA said it would pay to fix the old incinerator, but it set aside any plan to pay for a new one.
In its new ruling on payments for the existing incinerator, FEMA reiterated that it would not pay to build the city a new incinerator.
In its new ruling, FEMA said it will pay costs that the city amassed for transporting the plant's biosolids to an Illinois landfill while the plant's incinerator was being repaired. However, FEMA said it would not allow the city to add the transport costs to the overall plant damage costs to help the city reach a threshold of damage that would qualify the city of a new incinerator.
Utilities Director Hershner said the city will need to begin planning in the next five to 10 years to build a new incinerator with city funds or to explore other options for handling the disposal of the plant's biosolids.
In January, the city got bad news from FEMA on a second major outstanding second-round appeal. In that decision, FEMA headquarters said it would not pay the city $6.5 million of the city's cost to place debris from the Sinclair plant in the Mount Trashmore landfill.
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