FEMA evaluatesRepresentatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) rolled into Superior this week to assess damage done by last month’s flooding.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
Representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) rolled into Superior this week to assess damage done by last month’s flooding. Working with Wisconsin Emergency Management staff, they split into teams to tour damage in Ashland, Bayfield and Douglas counties. One team focused on the University of Wisconsin-Superior campus Tuesday.
“This is really sort of the lynchpin, I think, because depending on what kind of damage is here and if that damage meets the criteria for federal assistance … it could tip the scale on us getting some cash,” said Wisconsin Emergency Management spokesman Tod Pritchard.
The day started with a look at the university’s heating plant and underground steam pipes. Equipment in the building’s basement and subbasement, including huge boilers, were completely submerged, and water rose to one foot deep on the main floor, said UWS spokeswoman Lynne Williams.
As for the underground network of pipes that take steam to campus building, she said, “We’re pretty sure the majority of the two miles of tunnels flooded.” Along with flooding damage to the Jim Dan Hill Library, Old Main and numerous other buildings, conservative estimates put damage on campus at $15 million to $20 million, according to Williams.
As Aaron Watnemoe of Benson Electric lined up a rebuilt motor in the heating plant basement, FEMA team members gathered near a five-foot-deep trench close to the plant. The top of a concrete conduit was cut and pulled back to reveal the condition of the steam and condensate pipes inside. The peek underground gave mixed news, Williams said. Although insulation wrapping the pipe had soaked through it hadn’t yet crumbled, and the structural support — including brackets that the pipes sit on – appeared to be in good shape.
“We still need to dig up the tunnels and re-insulate,” Williams said, but it’s not as bad as originally anticipated. Three crews are expected to begin digging today to unearth the steam line running from the heating plant at 2210 Poplar Ave. along North 21st Street and Catlin Avenue to the front of the Marcovich Health Center. They will also work on a section of line running through the campus from Holden Fine and Applied Arts Center to the library. They plan to work 10 hour days, six days a week, to get the project completed before students arrive on campus.
The FEMA team could be in town for most of the week. Agency spokeswoman Hannah Vick said the community made it clear they wanted a very thorough assessment.
“So we’re going to take as long as it takes and we’re going to be here as long as it takes,” she said. “We don’t want to rush this.”
Damage must meet specific criteria and reach a certain threshold to be eligible for a disaster declaration. Currently, the state has requested the declaration for public assistance — debris removal, emergency protective measures and infrastructure repair. A separate team headed by the Small Business Administration is coming in later this week to see what impact the flooding had on individual homeowners, Pritchard said.
“That’s not part of what we’re doing today,” he said.
The FEMA team visited the Jim Dan Hill Library, as well. Tuesday afternoon was the first time power had been restored to the building since the June 19-20 flood. The basement of the building filled with approximately 900,000 gallons of water that climbed about seven feet high. The flooding damaged 150,000 books and 50,000 periodicals, Williams said. A freeze-drying process is being used to rescue about 104,000 books, Williams said. Another 45,000 were too damaged to save.
The FEMA/emergency management team also has city, county and state roads to view.
“Obviously there’s millions of dollars of damage here,” Pritchard said. “The key now is do those millions in dollars of damage qualify for federal assistance.”
That question has yet to be answered.
“We’re in the very preliminary stages and that’s the whole point of the assessment is to take a look around,” Vick said. “We are doing that, again, very much in coordination with the state and local officials so we’re all on the same page so at the very end we can say this assessment is very accurate, complete.”
Pritchard said he was hopeful a determination on whether the area meets the FEMA threshold could be made by August.