Suburbs Protest After FEMA Denies Flood Aid
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UPDATED: 10/21/10 6:26 p.m.
WESTCHESTER (WBBM/CBS) — Officials are furious in several Chicago suburbs that were ravaged by summer floods, after federal disaster aid was denied.
As CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli reports, mayors and village managers from more than half a dozen Cook and DuPage County towns gathered on the lawn of Westchester Village hall Thursday to decry the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s rejection of their flood relief requests.
The suburban governments were only asking for aid for damage to public property, and which could not be covered by other insurance.
Millions of dollars are at stake.
LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Mike Krauser Reports
“So we’re well over $2 million as a community that basically is under the bus, because we’re not going to receive dime one,” said Westchester Village President Sam Pulia.
The reason is that Cook County FEMA officials have determined that most municipalities did not suffer more than $17 million worth of damage to their properties. FEMA put the figure at $15 million, which means municipalities will not be reimbursed for 75 percent of the damage as many town leaders have been hoping.
Pulia says he and the other mayors took all the steps needed to obtain money from FEMA to get the aid.
“We’ve done everything that was asked,” he said.
Pulia told Newsradio 780’s Mike Krauser that the decision by FEMA not to provide aid is upsetting for several towns that could use the money.
“Disappointing, saddened. I am sure there are some other adjective words that I could use but would not be suitable,” he said.
The flooding was the worst in generations.
In Bellwood, the town lost 20 police cars to the rush of water.
“This parking lot, right now, the water would be up to your knees,” said Bellwood Mayor Frank Pasquale.
The flood waters that took over the village of Bellwood in July caused nearly $3 million in damage to village property.
With the loss of police cars, Mayor Pasquale relied on the kindness of neighboring police departments, like Melrose Park and Niles, for loaner squad cars.
“It impacted the village with a lot of services, too,” he said.
Pasquale says he’s having to cut back on things, like the marketing budget and various supplies, to make up the shortfall. The last thing he says he would ever want to do is raise taxes.
With $2.9 million in losses, Bellwood has received $500,000 from insurance so far to cover the squad cars lost. Nineteen are being purchased. The village was expecting another $500,000 from FEMA. Right now, the village is still out $2.4 million.
When asked what went through his mind when he heard the FEMA money wasn’t coming, Pasquale said, “Shock. At first, I didn’t believe it.”
“We’re hurting. The timing is terrible. Residents are suffering economically, and now we’re adding this pain to what they already have,” said Pasquale. “Something’s wrong here. We’re just trying to find out. We’re pleading to the governor, to the president. Help us.”
The group is calling on Gov. Pat Quinn to appeal to Washington personally – and to President Barack Obama if need be – for help.
“We need the governor to make that appeal to the federal government,” Pulia said. “Let the federal government turn us down, then.”
On Thursday afternoon, Quinn’s office released a statement saying that he has appealed the federal government’s denial of assistance to local governments in Cook County, saying federal assistance is necessary to help affected communities recover from severe storms and flooding that devastated the area in late July.
“Nearly three months after this devastating flooding, many communities in Cook County are still struggling to replace or repair roads, schools and other critical facilities,” said Quinn in the release. “These communities can’t do it alone – they need this federal assistance to help get them back on their feet.”
Hannah Vick, a spokeswoman with FEMA in Chicago, said the agency distributed $250 million in aid to individual homeowners and businesses but found that the municipalities didn’t meet the level of infrastructure damage to qualify for help.
“We came in; we did the assessments … and the state requested a disaster declaration but it was denied.” she said. “They asked us to come back, take another look but then they decided not to request an appeal.”
She said the state had 30 days to ask for the appeal the suburban leaders want.
WBBM Newsradio 780’s Regine Schlesinger and Mike Krauser, and CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli and Suzanne Le Mignot, contributed to this report.