The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has reversed an earlier denial of disaster assistance to one municipal utility in northwest Iowa, Sanborn Municipal Utilities and three rural electric cooperatives. Iowa Governor Terry E. Branstad said that he appreciated FEMA’s willingness to listen to the appeal led by the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (HSEMD). He also thanked the Iowa congressional delegation for assisting with the effort.
An April 2013 ice storm caused millions of dollars in damage to electrical utility lines in five Iowa counties: Dickinson, Lyon, O’Brien, Osceola and Sioux. The damage was so extensive that a Presidential Disaster Declaration was issued on May 6, 2013. On Aug. 30, 2013, FEMA denied the request for funding in the amount of $19 million to restore downed utility lines in those counties. In issuing the denial, FEMA initially said the utilities did not conduct comprehensive laboratory testing to verify the damage
was a direct result of the disaster.
On Dec. 24, 2013, the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (HSEMD) submitted an appeal to FEMA, asking for reconsideration of their denial of funding for the impacted utilities. HSEMD filed the appeal in conjunction with Sanborn Electric and Telecommunications Utility, Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative, Lyon Rural Electric Cooperative, and Osceola Electric Cooperative. That appeal was denied in April 2015 and in August 2015, HSEMD submitted a second appeal. By granting this second appeal, federal Public Assistance funding will be able to be used to replace conductors on the applicants’ electrical distribution systems.
The issue of the denial focused on the utilities not conducting comprehensive laboratory testing to verify the damage was a direct result of the disaster. FEMA officials had suggested that in order to be eligible for federal disaster assistance, the utility would need to have documentation from a certified testing laboratory on the condition of the utility both pre-disaster and post-disaster. The pre-disaster testing would require the utility to remove 20-foot sections of conductor per mile of line for annual testing – a testing standard not required by any federal, state or local regulatory body. Other industry interests, including the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities and a coalition of Iowa-based agricultural and industry groups, consider such testing requirements to be onerous and unreasonable. This comprehensive testing has been an issue that has been brought up with federal officials on previous occasions and now challenged and reversed in the Iowa case.