Launch Slideshow

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Chasing the Crest

Chasing the Crest

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    Due to its convenient location, the capped Cedar Rapids-Linn County Landfill Site 1 was reopened to accept flood debris. Photo: Z-Comm/Terex

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    Since wastewater was being discharged directly into the Cedar River, a key focus was on restoring primary treatment to remove suspended solids and floating debris. Sitting right in the middle of the Cedar River, the Veteran's Memorial Building on Mays Island suffered major damage, even to portions above the 500-year floodplain. Photo: Z-Comm

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    Keeping public order was the first priority. The receding waters revealed devastation reaching in excess of 10 square miles. The river reached beyond the 100- and 500-year floodplains to inundate homes and businesses, some to the top of the first floor. Photo: Z-Comm

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    “If you were to extrapolate the numbers in a nonscientific way, this could approximate a 2,000- to 3,000-year flood,” says Cedar Rapids Public Works Director Dave Elgin. Photo: City of Cedar Rapids

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    Slabs of asphalt were stockpiled after water pushed up through sections of some city streets. Photo: Z-Comm/Terex

Do-it-yourself reimbursement

Why one victim of recent flooding in the Midwest decided not to involve a third party when applying for federal aid.

Some people consider the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) a villain, but Tom Watson, infrastructure commander for the tiny Iowa town of Palo (population less than 1,000), enjoyed working with the agency after the Cedar River flooded the town in June.

One source of FEMA's reputation as being difficult may be the adjustor companies that offer their services as intermediaries between the community and the federal agency after disasters. Such companies gave Palo city officials the impression that their services had to be used to qualify for federal reimbursement. Not true.

“The companies charge administration fees ranging from 3% to 10% for submitting paperwork, and another 10% of total reimbursement for their services,” Watson says. The company claims applicants will get more federal money by using their services, thus covering the additional expense of using their expertise.

Palo chose to work directly with FEMA. In addition to being the town's infrastructure commander, Watson owns a local contracting company and had worked with federal agencies, so he knew what to do.

“Working with the adjustors wasn't the right decision for Palo,” says Watson, who encourages small communities with limited budgets to consider taking the same path. “We wanted to keep the money local. Paying the adjustor's charges plus the city's 15% contribution required by FEMA to the overall damage totals was just taking too much from Palo's coffers.”

FEMA also proved flexible, helping officials fill out and submit the appropriate worksheets for reimbursable items and offering some latitude in how the money is spent.

“Items must be brought back to preflood conditions,” Watson says. “But the guidelines allow a city to declare an ‘alternate project,' and up to 90% of the funds for the project can be redirected.”