Governor Corbett Appeals for Federal Reimbursement of Government Costs for Late June/July Storms

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Yesterday Governor Tom Corbett again requested federal funding that would provide reimbursement to local, county, and state agencies for costs associated with the response to and recovery from severe storms in late June and through July.

In (yesterday’s) letter to the president, the governor reiterated that the National Weather Service, a federal agency, agreed that the repeated storms were part of the same “weather regime” lasting from June 22 through July 25.

Last month the Federal Emergency Management Agency denied the governor’s request for a federal disaster declaration, saying the storms were a result of two distinct and separate storm events.

Corbett also noted that the U.S. Small Business Administration awarded disaster declarations in multiple counties to provide low-interest loans to citizens impacted by the storms.

“Some communities in Pennsylvania were battered repeatedly with storms that left behind significant damage to local infrastructure,” Corbett said. “Federal disaster aid is appropriate in this case, since we exceeded the commonwealth threshold of $17.4 million in costs and damages.”

The governor’s initial request asked for public assistance for state government, local governments and certain non-profit organizations the following counties: Allegheny, Centre, Clearfield, Clinton, Crawford, Fayette, Huntingdon, Jefferson, Lackawanna, Lawrence, Schuylkill, Venango, Washington, and Wayne.

This assistance could pay 75 percent of the approved cost of debris removal, emergency services related to the disaster and repairing or replacing damaged public facilities, such as roads, buildings and utilities.

The following is the September 6, 2013, letter to the President of the United States:

September 6, 2013

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
Through: Ms. MaryAnn Tierney
Regional Administrator, Region III
Federal Emergency Management Agency
One Independence Mall, Sixth Floor
615 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19106

Dear Mr. President:

On August 8, 2013, I received your denial of my request for a major disaster declaration for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The denial was sent to me through Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate. Pursuant to Part 206.46 of Title 44 of the Code of Federal Regulations, I respectfully submit this appeal of your decision.

According to Administrator Fugate’s letter, the Federal Emergency Management Agency reviewed the information and concluded that the damage resulting from this weather regime was a result of two distinct and separate storm events.

The letter further states that “the [National Weather Service] information does not indicate that the two storm events were part of the same storm system.” However, the written statements provided by the National Weather Service explicitly state that this event was part of one weather regime. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s conclusion is therefore contrary to the information provided by the National Weather Service. The statements from the National Weather Service are unequivocal that there was a clear indication of one weather regime across western Pennsylvania for the period of June 25 through July 22, 2013.1 Furthermore, the National Weather Service included empirical evidence of this weather regime and its ramifications to Pennsylvania. The written statement of NWS Meteorologist-in-Charge Richard J. Kane was provided to the Federal Emergency Management Agency with Pennsylvania’s original request.

Included
1 See: Written statement of NWS Meteorologist-in-Charge Richard J. Kane (stating that “[t]he time period of June 25th through July 22nd accounted for almost 93% of the flood and flash flood warnings that were issued this calendar year—a clear indication of the turn to a wet weather regime across western Pennsylvania through this period, which resulted in significant rainfall and widespread flooding.”) See also: Joint statement of NWS Pittsburgh Meteorologist-in-Charge Richard J. Kane and NWS State College Meteorologist-in-Charge Bruce W. Budd (finding that “[g]iven the overall atmospheric conditions that persisted and produced these storms through the period, they can be categorized as one weather regime.”)
2
with this appeal is a joint statement of NWS Pittsburgh Meteorologist-in-Charge Richard J. Kane and NWS State College Meteorologist-in-Charge Bruce W. Budd.
Despite Administrator Fugate’s assertion of a break in severe weather, for the initial period of the storm system, spanning from June 25 to July 11, 2013, multiple flooding, wind, water and other forms of storm damages occurred every day. These events were reported to the State Emergency Operations Center by the National Weather Service, counties, and municipalities, and are captured in the State Emergency Operations Center’s event log. Damages began occurring on the evening of June 25, 2013, in Blair and Adams Counties, and daily flood warnings, actual flooding, and other adverse/severe weather events are listed in an official copy of the log in its entirety submitted as Enclosure (C).

Additionally, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s explanation for denial of the Commonwealth’s original request cited a belief that storm events were part of two separate systems. Even if this should be proven accurate, the previously submitted National Weather Service statement clearly states that the system began on June 25, 2013, and makes no further mention that could be construed as an ending of one system and beginning of another until July 12, 2013. The fact remains that Pennsylvania’s public infrastructure damages in excess of $19.8 million have been documented by the Federal Emergency Management Agency as occurring between June 25 and July 10, 2013. This data, along with that of the State Emergency Operations Center and National Weather Service, demonstrates a period of unbroken severe weather and a single continuous system.

Based on disaster declarations that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has granted this year for storms and flooding that covered an extended period of time, there appears to be an inconsistency in how the regions of the Federal Emergency Management Agency review disaster declaration requests and make recommendations to headquarters. During this calendar year, there have been 44 major disaster declarations. Of these, 22 referred specifically to severe storms as the justification for declaration. Of those, seven cited patterns of severe weather and storms lasting two weeks or greater.2 The incident period for a recent major disaster declaration (DR-4140) in Vermont was exactly the same as the period requested by Pennsylvania, and we believe that the data indicates the Vermont weather regime was the same regime that affected the Commonwealth. The major disaster declaration for the Vermont storms and the denial for the Pennsylvania storms demonstrate inconsistency in making these determinations. This disparity, which impacts many rural Pennsylvania counties, is unacceptable.

In addition to evidence collected by the National Weather Service and State Emergency Operations Center, the U.S. Small Business Administration determined that a disaster had occurred throughout western Pennsylvania and that the resulting damage warranted disaster declarations for multiple counties. In agreement with the assessment of the National Weather Service, two U.S. Small Business Administration declarations recognized an incident period of June 26 through July 21, 2013 and one U.S. Small Business Administration declaration identified an incident period of June 27 through July 12.

Pennsylvania and the Federal Emergency Management Agency conducted joint preliminary damage assessments during the second week of July 2013. These assessments were prolonged and hindered by severe storms. Operations had to be stopped several times in different locations because of the weather. As a result, there are additional damages of over $4.7 million that have not been jointly assessed. To accurately capture damages incurred, it is requested that the Federal Emergency Management Agency physically assess those damages. For example, Clearfield County previously had jointly assessed damages of $3.1 million or over 1,100 percent of their threshold, and has reported an additional $627,000 of damages not previously assessed. Jefferson County had $3.5 million of jointly assessed damages or over 2,200 percent of their threshold, with

2 DR-4119 and DR-4126 in Iowa, DR-4121 in Michigan, DR-4122 in Alaska, DR-4127 in Montana, DR-4128 in North Dakota, and DR-4140 in Vermont. Federal Emergency Management Agency. Disaster Declarations (web database). http://www.fema.gov/disasters accessed 29 Aug 2013.

un-assessed damages of $165,000. Wayne County had $1.7 million of jointly assessed damages and combined un-assessed damages of $2,346,780 from my state Transportation and Corrections Agencies. These are just a few examples of severe infrastructure damages to rural Pennsylvania counties where effective response and recovery is beyond the capability of the communities and the Commonwealth. The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency is also aware of un-assessed damages totaling $2.6 million in the counties of Lackawanna, Crawford, Armstrong, Clarion, Somerset, Beaver, Bucks, and York.

Considering the findings of the National Weather Service, the U.S. Small Business Administration, the joint preliminary damage assessments in which the Federal Emergency Management Agency participated, the continuous ongoing response of the Commonwealth to the weather regime, the per capita damages incurred by the Commonwealth, and the previously enumerated 2013 Major Declarations–particularly that of Vermont–there is no reasonable basis upon which the Federal Emergency Management Agency could determine that the damage to the infrastructure occurring between June 25 and July 10 was a result of two distinct and separate storm events. Objectively, the determination by the Federal Emergency Management Agency is not based upon any reasonable empirical evidence because the federal agency responsible for providing such evidence, the National Weather Service, has made a determination to the contrary. The determination by the Federal Emergency Management Agency is further impugned given that a second federal agency, with discretionary authority similar to that of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, considered the same data and affirmatively agreed that a disaster declaration extending for the period of the weather regime was warranted for the Commonwealth. While it is unclear how the Federal Emergency Management Agency reached its meteorological determination, it is clear the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s determination conflicts with those of another federal agency and is inconsistent with the available data. We therefore believe that the rationale used to support and ultimately determine Pennsylvania’s request was in error.

The Commonwealth asserts error and that an unreasonable rationale was used to deny Pennsylvania’s request. Even if there were a reasonable basis upon which to discount the data provided by the National Weather Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s conclusive rationale would still be foreign to the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (Stafford Act) and its implementing regulations. Administrator Fugate’s letter stated that in order to support the request for a major disaster declaration, the event “would have to be a part of the same storm system.” This expressed requirement is not an element of the Stafford Act, nor is it found in the regulations. The Stafford Act defines a major disaster as any natural catastrophe or, regardless of cause, any fire, flood, or explosion, in any part of the United States, which in the determination of the President causes damage of sufficient severity and magnitude to warrant major disaster assistance.3 As you know, the President may declare a major disaster based upon the Governor’s finding that the disaster is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the state and the affected local governments and that federal assistance is necessary.4 Pennsylvania experienced a 28 day weather regime that was of such severity and magnitude that it caused over $17.4 million in costs and damages and accounted for approximately 93 percent of the flood and flash flood warnings issued in Pennsylvania this calendar year. The response to this single weather regime was one continuous response effort that exceeded the capabilities of the state and the affected local governments. Based upon the plain meaning of the Stafford Act, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s support, or lack thereof, for Pennsylvania’s request may not be predicated upon a capricious standard stating that the event “would have to be a part of the same storm system;” rather, the Federal Emergency Management Agency should determine whether a 28 day weather regime that caused over $17.4 million in damages was of such severity and magnitude as to warrant a major disaster declaration. The whimsical standard of “have[ing] to be part of the same storm system” upon which the Federal Emergency Management Agency relies is extraneous to the Stafford Act and erroneous both in fact and in discretion.

3 42 U.S.C. 5122(2).
4 42 U.S.C. 5170.

In addition to the information provided above, Pennsylvania and its local governments continue to struggle with the recovery from the multiple major disasters resulting from Hurricane Irene, Tropical Storm Lee, and Hurricane Sandy. Within this context of multiple major disasters and based upon the information contained in our original request and this appeal, I respectfully request that you reconsider your denial of assistance for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and its affected governments. I thank you for your reconsideration and I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

TOM CORBETT
Governor

Source: Pennsylvania Office of the Governor


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