Image

Credit: City of Eugene

Contractors complete work on the weirs for Delta Ponds project. The Eugene, Ore., public works department has worked closely with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a number of other groups.
Image
Brickwork is in progress at the Charlottesville (Va.) Transfer Center. The center, shown in this artist's rendering, is due to be completed in the fall.

For instance, due to the tremendous scope of Hurricane Katrina's damage last year, FEMA agreed to pay for removal of debris from private property in many areas. The agency told Congress that removal costs were $10 to $20 per cubic yard for normal debris. It reimburses local governments 100% of the costs of hauling debris in the month or two following the disaster (depending on the event) but only 75% longer term.

Spearman said FEMA's reimbursements often have been controversial when local governments were stuck with costs they might have avoided. “It's good that these catastrophic incidents happen so infrequently, but the other side of the coin is that the local governments can lose their expertise at getting their maximum reimbursement,” he said.

He said cities and counties should work with FEMA before disasters occur to fully understand the agency's regulations and ensure their disaster plans fit FEMA's reimbursement criteria. “Learning a set of rules doesn't just work in the middle of an emergency, when you have to get things done immediately. You definitely can lose out on some of those reimbursements if you don't truck [debris] right,” he said.

Spearman said governments also should take preemptive actions such as selecting potential temporary debris storage areas and developing methods to certify that the volumes of storm debris are actually transported.

NEGOTIATION IS KEY

Kurt Corey, public works director for Eugene, Ore., said close communication with federal agencies has benefited two of his city's major projects. The long-planned West Eugene Parkway would be a four-lane 5.8-mile artery connecting Highway 99 to Highway 126. Eugene voters have twice approved the highway, but it would cross part of the West Eugene Wetlands, requiring approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the Bureau of Land Management, and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The parties involved were able to negotiate a mitigation bank program in the early 1990s to preserve the highest quality wetlands areas and allow commercial industrial/development of marginal areas.

Corey said because of conflicting interests, city and state relations with the federal agencies have been tenuous at times. “We've made an effort to meet periodically to discuss mutual objectives and seek ways to balance the development that the community wanted with the desire of the agencies to protect wetlands,” he said.

The highway project is awaiting completion of a final environmental impact statement later this year. “As a parallel effort, the community and stakeholders are participating in a collaborative process to see if there are any alternatives that might not have been considered yet,” said Corey.

On the Delta Ponds project, the Eugene public works department has worked closely with the USACE and a number of other groups. Delta Ponds is a 150-acre, former gravel pit area along the Willamette River in the heart of the city. Since acquiring the property, the city has spent nearly $2 million to improve trails, add parking, and remove non-native invasive plants. The USACE has spent $6 million to reconnect the flood-plain ponds to the Willamette River and improve the water flow to the ponds.

The project has broad community support. Twenty-eight public, private, and nonprofit entities have pledged actions that would ensure that the project is finished in a timely fashion.