Marengo County storm shelter application denied

Published 4:19 pm Thursday, September 21, 2023

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During the Sept. 12 Marengo County Commission meeting, Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Kevin McKinney announced to the Commission that FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) had denied the county’s application for storm shelters.

McKinney said he received word that the application was not picked up by contract graders who decided the application did not meet enough of the qualifications to be forwarded up for funding. According to the graders, not enough people lived within five-minutes of the shelters and therefore did not meet federal guidelines.

“It was just a mess, basically,” McKinney said. “The populations around the areas that were chosen for the shelters didn’t have the population requirements to fund that kind of money in those specific areas.”

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McKinney said the county is now “back to Plan B.” The day of the meeting, McKinney said there was a grant opening for statewide mitigation money. He reported that there was not much available, only $1.3 million, which means there will be a lot of competition for the funding.

Another option for consideration is buying the shelters themselves and contracting with a private company without involving FEMA. McKinney said the county’s match on the shelters was $103,000. The process would be similar to what the Black Belt Community Foundation used to build storm shelters around the county.

For legal and safety reasons, storm shelters have to be built to FEMA standards. But the county going in with a private company avoids the “federal red tape.”

“The shelters don’t have to be FEMA approved financially, but it does have to be FEMA approved constructionally,” said McKinney. “You don’t want to give a stamp of approval and put people in it if it doesn’t meet those codes.”

McKinney said he would continue looking into the matter and bring more information to the October Commission meeting.