2009-03-04 / Front Page

Willacy County to get $5.5 million in additional hurricane disaster aid

By Paul Whitworth

The federal government through the State of Texas has awarded $55 million in extra hurricane assistance to the Rio Grande Valley because of Hurricane Dolly.

The July 23, 2008 storm with 85 mph winds struck South Padre Island and crossed between Harlingen and Raymondville. $1.05 billion in damages were attributed to the hurricane which caused no deaths in Texas but two in New Mexico. Earlier, it caused 17 deaths in Guatemala and one in the Yucatan.

After the storm the federal emergency management agency moved into the area and provided food and shelter to many affected by the storm. Some 212,000 customers lost their power in the Rio Grande Valley and another 125,000 in northern Mexico.

Despite FEMA's presence in Willacy County, more than 75 percent of the damage claims made by local people were denied.

Late last year Public Law 110-329 was passed to provide an additional $55 million in Hurricane Dolly aid.

Of that amount $5.5 million, or 10 percent was allocated to Willacy County. The Commissioners Court will get half of the money provided to our county and they are working out a plan for its use. An advisory committee has been appointed to give imput to the commissioners.

To date 15% of the $2,750,000 the county has to spend has been earmarked for housing repairs, a total of $412,500. The remainder of the county's discretionary funds will likely go to infrastructure repairs.

As it now stands that money will be spent as follows:

Sebastian Municipal Utility District $310,000, Port Mansfield Water & Sewer Systems $250,000, La Sara Cafeteria-Shelter $155,000, 3- bridges (reinforce existing structures) $180,000, North Star Apartments Drainage Improvments $45,000, La Sara Drainage Improvements $86,430, Simon Gomez Drainage Improvements $30,000. TOTAL WILLACY COUNTY ALLOCATED FUNDS $1,046,430

If my figures are correct that leaves a balance of $1,291,070 in county discretionary funds. The following addtional expenditures are possible: WILLACY COUNTY PROJECTS TO BE SCORED Sebastian Road Reconstruction 700,000, Mulberry Road Drainage Improvments 300,000, Sebastian Drainage Study 150,000, Santa Monica Water Pumps 150,000, Anagua Road Drainage Improvements 60,000, B&E County Road 60,000 TOTAL 1,420,000

It appears that the county will need to come up with $128,930 if all these projects win final approval.

But, what becomes of the other $2,750,000 awarded to the county?

According to the State of Texas Office of Rural Community Affairs (ORCA) the remaining $2.7 million will be divided between the cities of Raymo- ndville, Lyford, San Perlita and rural Willacy County.

No breakdown of the planned expenditures for those commu- nities has been made available to the Chronicle/ News. ORCA expects to begin accepting grant applications for recovery funds from local governments this month.

PROGRAM REQUIREMENTS

Funds must be used for disaster related damages. Funds cannot be used to reimburse any damages that have already been paid for by individuals,SBA, insurance, FEMA, or a similar source.

Eligible activities include housing rehabilitation and reconstruction, and public infrastructure like water and sewer systems, street and drainage improvements.

Projects approved for recovery funds must comply with HUD and ORCA regulations, including environmental review, Davis- Bacon wage rates, civil rights and public bidding.

Projects for recovery funds must include a citizen participation effort. The County must also create a Citizen Advisory Committee to review, evaluate and recommend projects. (Editor's note) I understand that this has already been done but the Chronicle/News has not been advised of the meetings, when and where they took place and who the committee members are. We would like to see this corrected.)

Job training and employment, health care and child care, crime prevention and transportation are eligible activties as long as they are linked to hurricane damages. Administrative costs associated with the spending of ORCA funds are eligible to come from grant money, such as planning, project monitoring, office supplies, postage, travel, audit fees, project close out and advertising. PROCESS FOR SUBMISSION & SELECTION OF PROJECTS

Willacy County Commissioners Court may not establish minimum and maximum dollar amounts for individual projects.

Project funding requests may be solicited through a citizen participation process that may include one or more advertised public hearings. (Editor's note, So far as we know this has not been done).

Applicants seeking funding must complete a form describing the project, activity and the cost.

Project requests will be reviewed, evaluated and recommended by a Citizen Advisory Committee. The recommendations will be acted on by the Commissioners Court.

The Commissioners Court will make the final decision on the selection and funding of the projects or activities.

All projects must be completed within the approved grant budget, or the entity receiving the funds pays for any difference cost. Construction projects funded by ORCA may include engineering services. Engineering firms that work on disaster recovery projects funded through the county must meet ORCA eligibility standards.

Entities receiving funds will be considered sub-grantees and will agree to enter into an agreement with the county governing the use of funds. Otherwise the county will be responsible for project administration.

(Editor's note: The first we heard of the ORCA grant of $5.5 million was at a special county meeting Monday, March 3. It is apparent that these activities have been going on for some time and that more than one meeting has been held to discuss them. Who are the committee members? I urge that in the future, the Chronicle/ News, be made aware of the meetings so that we can be represent our readers interests, by keeping them informed about the county & cities intent to spend $5.5 million tax dollars for local projects).

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