Hundreds of surveys would be sent off this week as part of an appeal of a FEMA decision to provide emergency funds to local government, but not residents whose property damage is estimated at over $50 million.
Steve Jacquart, intergovernmental coordinator for the Metropolitan Milwaukee Sewerage District (MMSD), explained to the over 70 homeowners attending the meeting that the surveys would strengthen the city’s appeal of last week’s FEMA decision.
One of the reasons FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) reportedly rejected aid to residents centered around a policy that places higher priority on damage done to first floors (living quarters) than basements.
In the case of Milwaukee, most the damage was restricted to basements.
As part of the appeal, city officials are collecting statements from residents who say their basements are used for living accommodations, including sleeping quarters. Jacquart also revealed a back up plan to petition congress for funding in the event FEMA again rejects Milwaukee’s application.
In answer to a question about storm damage to low and fixed income residents’ homes, Jacquart announced MMSD has set aside $100,000 for severe cases involving the elderly and infirmed.
Earlier in the day, MMSD commissioners voted to approve five contracts with a firm that will inspect up to 6,000 private laterals for leaks and other damage. Commissioners also discussed a $150 million, 25-year project to repair the laterals.
The MMSD owns about 300 miles of laterals, while the city and homeowners own in excess of 6,000 miles.
The proposed $150 million initiative would be the most expensive initiative of its kind, but could resolve many of the problems that contributed to the flooding.
The two-hour public meeting Monday was one of the most comprehensive to date. Along with MMSD, representatives from the city Department of Public Works, Health Department, elected officials and private contractors were among the panel of experts addressing the questions of residents.
Robert Brooks, of the Department of Public Works, provided a slide presentation that clearly detailed the roles government and residential factors that contributed to the flood.
Even with all systems functioning normally, he noted, “no system can withstand 8-9 inches of rain water in such a short period of time (as was the case with the July 22 rain storm).”
State Rep. Barbara Toles detailed her odyssey when the home occupied by her sister and father was barricaded by water. “I felt hopeless, because I couldn’t get to them she said. “My sister said she was in a Katrina (type situation); she was literally trapped in her house.
She saved our family pictures, which may not seem important, but it was to us. You can replace every else, but the pictures were priceless.”
Toles’ primary message to the audience was that elected officials, at every level, are working cooperatively to “get you aid. We’re working at every level of government,” she said.
Donna Howe, a spokesperson for the City Health Department, discussed the health issues related to mold build up in flooded homes. She also provided clean up tips, offering that mold poses a health risk if not properly removed.
Michael Harper concurred. The owner of Urban Clean Energy Ventures, he went into detail on methods homeowners can use to avoid future flooding.
As has been the case at other public hearings, many of the residents provided the panel with heart wrenching tales. One common theme centered on why they have been denied financial assistance. Several people suggested a lawsuit was the only viable option for redress.
One senior said his home has been flooded six times in the last decade. He rhetorically asked why residents in Chicago didn’t have as much flood damage, yet are receiving FEMA aid.
A woman said the flood damage has created a health crisis, and should be addressed as one. She said she knew of many people who have been hospitalized for respiratory problems.