EF area adds up cost of storms



By ERIC SLAGLE Daily News Staff Writer




Communities hardest hit what is now being called “Snow-Mageddon” are digging out from the storms.

Questions remain about how those municipalities will pay for those efforts.

On Thursday, roads in communities that comprise the Elizabeth Forward School District — which are part of an area some are referring to as “ground zero” for the storm because of the heavy, wet snow that fell there and caused widespread power outages — were as clear as they’ve been in days, though some homes in the area still lacked electricity.

In Elizabeth, most of the borough had power restored but recovery there was only beginning.

At the bingo hall, borough residents and officials who’d spent most of the past six days responding to the storm were trying to quantify the cost of the winter blast.

Borough Manager Robin Stockton pored over time sheets, receipts and other records compiled since the storm began in preparation for an afternoon conference call with U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, who’d requested the tally.

“They want a rough draft of how much we’ve got invested,” Stockton said.

Murphy


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visited the borough Wednesday and delivered a generator, an effort that earned him praise from council members Monica Douglas and Paul Shaner, who said he was the only elected official to stop by the command center.

Murphy, in the conference call Thursday, said he planned to visit more communities last night and today.

“We’re working our way through this,” he said at the onset of the call, explaining he needed an estimate of how much communities had spent on the disaster as part of the application for Federal Emergency Management Agency funds.

Murphy said that, based on the quick thumbnail estimates of costs he’d received so far, “It sounds like they’re quite substantial, to say the least.” To receive FEMA funding, communities must be recognized as disaster areas. Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell has declared the state a disaster area, but there has not yet been a federal declaration.

Even with a disaster declaration, Murphy said there’s no funding stream available to pay for the recovery. “So there will be no overnight money coming through.” The federal government, in addition to determining whether the weather event broke previous records, will consider: • Amount and type of damage, such as the number of homes destroyed or with major damage • Impact on the infrastructure of the affected

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areas or critical facilities • Imminent threats to public health and safety • Impacts to essential government services and functions • Unique capability of federal government • Dispersion or concen­tration of damage • Level of insurance cov­erage in place for homeown­ers and public facilities • Assistance available from other sources such as fed­eral, state, local or voluntary organizations • State and local resource commitments from previ­ous, undeclared events • Frequency of disaster events over recent period of time.

Questions remain as to what will be covered under FEMA relief if it is awarded. Murphy said FEMA funds may be applied to snow assistance costs and events that happen within a 48­hour window of the snowfall. Whether the current situa­tion, where there were two storms striking within three days of each other, would require separate applications or a single one, he couldn’t say.

Forward Township Supervisor Tom Headley noted that his community, which had to hire four con­tractors on an open-ended basis, incurred many of its expenses after the first 48 hours passed.

“People were working but they couldn’t do anything because of the trees and wires down,” he said. “We were paralyzed here almost through Saturday.” Elizabeth Township Commissioners President Joanne Beckowitz asked whether the township’s emer­gency management coor­dinator, Damien Michaels, would be eligible for reim­ bursement using FEMA funds. Beckowitz said the coordinator’s position is not normally on payroll but the township wanted to “put a wage to his time.” Murphy said he wasn’t sure if the time will be reim­bursable.

“Just keep track of every penny,” he advised munici­palities toward the end of the call.

State Rep. David Levdansky, D-Forward, said he will be returning to the area Thursday night after getting stranded in Harrisburg during the sec­ond storm. He said he’ll ask that the governor make a formal request for federal relief funds when he returns to the state capital, and keep pressure on Allegheny Power to get electricity restored to all residents.

Levdansky said anyone whose power has not been restore should contact his office at 412-384-2258.

Lincoln resident David Collura was one of those still without power Thursday.

“There’s no excuse for this,” he said.

Collura said he’s been snowed into his home for days, unable to leave out of concern for his pets and farm animals, and heating his home with a fireplace.

Collura, who estimated he has enough wood to get him through until Saturday, said “Having electricity back would make me feel better.” On Thursday, 93 percent of the 432,000 Allegheny Power customers who lost power from the storms had had their service restored.

Locally, the utility’s Charleroi center still had 749 malfunctioning lines, leaving 10,719 customers without power, while its Jefferson center had 481 malfunctions and 6,591 customers without service.

Elizabeth Forward School District is looking forward to getting back to normal. Classes are canceled for today but are scheduled to resume Monday, which had previously been scheduled off for Presidents Day.