Utility dispute with FEMA unresolved

KANSAS - A group of electric utilities in Kansas has so far been unable to resolve differences with the Federal Emergency Management Agency over how to proceed with repairs to facilities damaged in December's ice storm.

The 26 Kansas utilities involved provide electric service to more than 300,000 residents. Several meetings between the municipal and cooperative electric utilities and FEMA have been aimed at resolving how to pay for replacing or repairing the damaged facilities.

The utilities contend they have line sections that need to be replaced, but FEMA disputes the extent of the damage, Stuart Lowry of Kansas Electric Cooperatives Inc. said.

Lowry said FEMA has proposed additional inspections to identify the damage more thoroughly.

"Our primary concern is to get these damaged systems back and operating at pre-disaster conditions very soon," said Colin Hansen of Kansas Municipal Utilities. "Unfortunately, the process outlined by FEMA does not get us to that point."

But FEMA said the utilities have not provided the agency with evidence that the facilities need replacing.

"It's the responsibility of the applicant to show us the damage," said Anita Westervelt, external affairs officer for FEMA. "We restore to predisaster design and conditions. We do not rebuild unless something is totally destroyed.

"We don't come to a disaster to not give people money," she added. "We come to give them every dollar that we can validate they're eligible for."

Westervelt said FEMA has paid about $52 million for repairs from the storm that hit much of Kansas on Dec. 6, 2007, and intensified on Dec. 10. More than 115,000 households lost power.

KEC said the state has estimated damage to be about $340 million for electric cooperatives in the state and that the money authorized so far did not return the electrical systems to pre-disaster condition.

Lowry said the required inspections could take up to a year, and that the detailed inspections could result in conductor breaks and outages.

"We have already provided FEMA with photographs, engineering studies, inspection reports, inventory reports, outage data and other information to document the extent of the damage, so we certainly don't welcome the additional delay the new inspections will cause," Lowry said.

But Westervelt said FEMA is governed by statutes and congressional mandates and that its requirements are reasonable.

"They think we should take their electrical engineering reports at face value," she said. "But by law, we cannot without validating."


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