Lyon Rural Electric Cooperative, Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative, Osceola Rural Electric Cooperative and Sanborn Municipal Utilities have filed a formal appeal with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (or FEMA) asking that the agency reverse their decision to deny federal disaster aid to Iowa following devastating storms, a decision that — according to a statement from the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives — could also force the repayment of millions in previously-awarded aid.
Marion Denger, president of the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives says that their top priority is providing member-consumers in rural Iowa with reliable and affordable power. In order to do that, he says it’s important that FEMA honor its commitment and their well-established practices. He says that during the appeal process the association will continue to make a strong case showing this decision is an unprecedented reversal of FEMA’s disaster aid policy. With winter storm season approaching, Denger says it’s vital that they resolve this issue and give their members the assurance that the federal government will follow their established policy.
Following a late winter snow, ice and wind storm in April, a federally-declared Major Disaster included Lyon, Osceola, Dickinson, Sioux and O’Brien counties. Three of Iowa’s electric cooperatives, a generation and transmission cooperative and one municipal utility suffered damage.
In response to past disaster-related damage, FEMA has followed a policy where visually-observable criteria were used to determine if power lines had been damaged beyond the point of repair. FEMA reversed this long-standing policy and denied disaster aid applications following the April storm.
For the first time in the nation, FEMA has stated that disaster aid could not be issued because the affected electric utilities did not conduct comprehensive laboratory testing on every mile of wire on an annual basis. This test is not performed as a matter of industry practice or required to meet any industry or engineering standard. It is also not required by the Iowa Utilities Board, which regulates Iowa’s electric utilities and required them to submit reliability plans and inspection and maintenance plans.
Members of Iowa’s congressional delegation and a coalition of Iowa agriculture, business, and utility organizations had previously requested that FEMA meet with the utilities to discuss the disaster aid denial. Additionally, the governor’s office and the Iowa Department of Homeland Security have raised questions about the agency’s decision.
Denger says that the commitment of such a broad group of elected officials and organizations underscores the importance of reversing this decision. He claims that it’s the right thing to do for rural Iowa and their member-consumers across the state.
Earlier this year, KIWA News talked to Dennis Harper with Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management, and he said that they had received a response from FEMA that because the new rules were not in effect before, previously-awarded disaster aid would not have to be paid back.