March 28, 2019 10:20:26 AM
The Mississippi Legislature will provide $3 million to the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency to distribute for cleanup after last month's weather disasters.
A good portion of that of money -- up to $500,000 -- will be headed to Columbus, which estimated its cleanup costs at $4 million.
"Columbus would have every penny it needs to complete the initial cleanup and demolition and get us where we need to be until the (Federal Emergency Management Agency) money gets here," said Rep. Jeff Smith (R, Columbus).
Smith said a combination of bond money and appropriations will provide the money that MEMA will distribute to those areas damaged by extensive flooding, as well as the EF-3 tornado that ripped through Columbus on Feb. 23.
Smith, along with other members of the Golden Triangle legislative delegation and Columbus Project Manager Jabari Edwards met with Stephen McCraney, deputy director of MEMA, on Friday to discuss MEMA's plans for helping local governments with their cleanup efforts.
"We don't know the final number for what we'll get," Edwards said. "Once MEMA knows what funds will be coming to them, they'll distribute the money based on their formula. But from what I understand the biggest amount will be coming to Columbus because we had the biggest claim."
Columbus officials initially expected to borrow money to cover the $4 million cleanup cost. Of that total 87.5 percent (or $3.5 million) would be paid or reimbursed through FEMA (75 percent) or MEMA (12.5 percent).
Based on that formula, MEMA would provide $500,000 for Columbus, based on its $4 million assessment, but it is not certain if Columbus will get that entire amount right away.
Edwards said that while insurance will cover the cost of replacing infrastructure, any rebuilding costs not covered by insurance will be paid by FEMA. There is also grant money available for rebuilding.
How soon Columbus will receive the money depends on a federal disaster declaration from President Donald Trump. Gov. Phil Bryant made the request to Trump last week.
"The federal declaration triggers everything," Edwards said. "As soon as that is made, the MEMA money should be there for us."
Smith said once the declaration is made, FEMA representatives will arrive quickly to complete their own assessments.
"As soon as the president signs the declaration, usually within 24 hours, the FEMA director's designee will be sent to Columbus," Smith said. "FEMA will set up headquarters at the Trotter Center. There shouldn't be any dragging of feet on the federal level once the declaration is made.
"Based on the timeline, I would except that FEMA would be here sometime next week," he added.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected].
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