Foley staff working to receive FEMA reimbursements, contesting denied project

By Jessica Vaughn
Posted 7/14/21

FOLEY - The city of Foley has 15 projects that were sent to FEMA for reimbursement consideration, which together total $15.8 million. Of those projects, four have been denied for reimbursement, and …

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Foley staff working to receive FEMA reimbursements, contesting denied project

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FOLEY - The city of Foley has 15 projects that were sent to FEMA for reimbursement consideration, which together total $15.8 million. Of those projects, four have been denied for reimbursement, and the most recent denial has city staff asking mayor and council to contest.

“The first two that were rejected were with regard to private property, with debris removal that was in private communities where it’s not city-owned streets. That amount was about $200,000,” said City Administrator Mike Thompson. “FEMA has also indicated that they’re not going to help fund any of our waterway debris, that’s only about $75,000, but they’ve indicated that they’re not going to support that. The larger issue, though, is the one that was recently denied, and that’s the leaners and hangers. That’s about a $1.6 million project that they denied.”

Thompson said the staff’s first step will be to reach out to the FEMA regional administrator to discuss the possibility of the denial being withdrawn and the project being reconsidered. If the effort proves unsuccessful, council voted to allow Mayor Ralph Hellmich to move forward with contracting professionals to assist with the appeal process. Thompson said the city has approximately 60 days to initiate the appeal if they so choose.

Leaners and hangers refers to tree limbs or trees that are leaning or hanging near or in a right of way that could pose a danger to the public on the road or the sidewalk.

“We believe that the denial of the leaners and hangers is something that we should fight,” Thompson said. “Within FEMA’s denial letter it states that they did not feel that we had sufficient evidence on these leaners and hangers … We submitted 27,000 pictures, along with a GPS coordinate for each of the 8,000 leaners and hangers, and yet they’ve indicated that we have not given enough information to make a decision. So that’s what we’re faced with, and it’s not just us, other local governments are having these similar difficulties.”

“We were following their guidelines,” said Hellmich. “We attended a meeting a few months ago where this leaners and hangers issue came up … [FEMA] stated at that meeting that they felt there may be issues with some of these, but since it was its own category they would go through it and ones they had questions with they would ask. They rejected 100 percent of ours. They didn’t say 5 percent is okay, or 20 or 30 percent. There is no way that 100 percent was not affected.”

Not all the news is bad. Four of the 15 projects have been approved for reimbursement for a total of approximately $275,000. Also at the July meeting, Foley council approved the payoff of a city line of credit relating to Hurricane Sally expenses. From the $10 million line of credit, $3.5 million was spent towards recovery efforts.

“This is a situation I never envisioned, coming into another hurricane season and still waiting on FEMA reimbursements from the previous year,” said Council President Wayne Trawick. “The City of Foley carries an emergency fund to cover those types of situations so we’re okay, but some of the smaller cities, I don’t see how they’d survive another major hurricane.”

For more information, visit https://cityoffoley.org.