Government / Politics

FEMA slow in reimbursing for flood damages partially because of fires

Kevin O’Neill, manager of Office of Emergency Services, reported the county has eight flood-related projects with a cost of $1.8 million. So far FEMA has reimbursed only $107,500.

San Benito County Office of Emergency Services Manager Kevin O’Neill reported during the county Board of Supervisors meeting Aug. 7 that the county has eight flood-related projects with a cost of $1.8 million. So far, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), has reimbursed only $107,500.

FEMA funds 75 percent of the cost of eligible recovery projects and the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services covers an additional 18.75 percent of the cost. The county’s final cost for a project is 6.25 percent of the eligible cost, according to O’Neill.

Floodwaters from the January and February 2017 storms are long gone, but damage to some county roads and infrastructure remains.

O’Neill recounted how the storms covered much of the state with flooding and mudslides. On Feb. 14, 2017, and again on April 2, 2017, the president declared majors disasters for the state, making the county eligible for public assistance reimbursement for damages incurred last year from Jan. 3-12 and Feb. 1-23.

The storms caused two levees on either side of Pacheco Creek to break, resulting in flood waters rushing through the Lovers Lane area. Part of Lovers Lane Road was badly damaged and a number of homes were evacuated. One levee break washed away a large portion of one orchard and undercut a bridge on San Felipe Road.

Since May 19, 2017, the county office of emergency services and consultant Hagerty Consulting have been actively engaged in supporting comprehensive disaster recovery management, O’Neill said. His department’s intention is to maximize the county’s reimbursement for all eligible emergency/permanent work and associated costs allowed under FEMA policy.

According to FEMA, when the impact of major or catastrophic emergencies exceed local financial resources, financial aid and assistance may be requested from FEMA through the state.

O’Neill said the money spent on Hagerty was well worth it, considering the number of disasters that have happened across the country, including the major fires in California. He said Hagerty's primary purpose was to make sure San Benito County’s needs weren’t ignored amid numerous high-magnitude incidents. Hagerty and the county are managing two FEMA grants for $409,333 and $1,457,062, he said, adding that the consultant cost will also be reimbursed at the same rates as disaster costs.

To date, the county has eight projects valued at $1,866,395. O’Neill showed the board a graph that outlined the projects and their status:

  • Lone Tree Road/Lovers Lane/San Felipe Road/Tequisquita Slough with an estimated repair cost of $659,068. So far, the county has spent $71,195; FEMA has not yet reimbursed the county for this.
  • Washout at San Benito County Historical and Recreational Park, with an estimated repair cost of $698,438. So far, $48,039 has been spent, with no FEMA reimbursement.
  • San Felipe Road south of the bridge over Pacheco Creek has been repaired at a cost of $99,556, with $93,334 being reimbursed.
  • Removal of hazardous debris countywide at an estimated cost of $81,524. So far, $10,721 has been spent, all of which has been reimbursed.
  • Debris removal in Pacheco Creek cost the county $183,738, with only $3,445 reimbursed.
  • The removal of a bridge that collapsed on Southside Road will cost $56,675. So far, nothing has been spent.
  • Emergency protective measures, including road surfacing, has cost $84,396. Nothing has been reimbursed so far.

O’Neill said the FEMA reimbursement process is slow and normally takes at least three months from the time San Benito County is notified it will receive money to the date it actually does.

“It’s especially slow now because the state is actively involved in three major disasters [fires in California],” he said.

Supervisor Mark Medina asked O’Neill when work would begin in the Lovers Lane area, which is projected for completion in October. O’Neill said he did not know,

Said Resource Management Agency Director John Guertin: “The contract will be coming back before you during the next board meeting and construction will begin in September.

BenitoLink reporting on 2017 floods:



John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]