Electric Coops Negotiate More Aid with FEMA

TOPEKA, Kan. - Many power lines and equipment were repaired, but rural electric cooperatives continue to deal with the aftermath of the December 10, 2007 ice storm.

Rural power companies say they are offered $39 million from FEMA for damage they say totals $360 million.

Representatives from 22 rural electric coops and five municipal systems met with FEMA officials in Topeka to talk about criteria that would decide whether they get that extra money or not.

During the ice storm that began December 10, 2007, major ice accumulation across Kansas brought down tree limbs and power lines, knocking out power to hundreds of thousands of customers.

President Bush authorized federal aid for 105 Kansas counties, but power officials are appealing, saying the money FEMA is offering is not enough to pay for the total damage.

"That's an anniversary we're really not celebrating," said Stuart Lowry, Executive Vice President and General Counsel for Kansas Electric Cooperatives. "Most utilities made repairs at the time of the storm to get electrical service repaired to all customers." Lowry was among the group meeting with FEMA. Others rural electric cooperatives included electrical engineers: Mark Barbee; Dennis Snyder; Frank Brown; Ray Harold; Brent Corwin; Brian Beecher; and General managers Bob Reece and Dale Short.

Municipal electric utility representatives included electrical engineers: Ken Fairchild, Olsson Associates, representing the cities of Clay Center and Holton; Mike Schmaderer, Mid-States Energy Works, representing the cities of Pratt and Sterling; and Cris Naegele, Utility HelpNet, representing the city of Sabetha. Municipal operations/general manager, Bill Calloway with Clay Center Public Utilities Commission was present.

And from FEMA, representing Region 7, Dennis Moffet; and Lujuanna Richardson and James Walke from headquarters were at the meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to see if the groups can reach an agreement on criteria to use to establish when an electric conductor needs to be replaced following an ice storm.

FEMA officials say they came up with their $39 million amount based on the cost for repairs, but the coop estimate comes from the companies wanting those things that were repaired to be replaced all together.

"The only thing that's been paid for was the cost of the initial restoration," said Lowry.

"I'm thinking what most of these appeals are - especially because of the large disparity in money figures - is because what our eligible applicants want is a replacement of disaster damage conductor, and all we've done is repair it," said Moffett.

Lowry says the electrical systems are probably in a weakened condition because of last year's storm, causing some safety concerns. "It's always a worry," Lowry said. "There's no scenario by which we will return to pre-disaster condition by this winter, but we hope that we can resolve some of these issues so that we can take steps in the future to bring it back."

The regional FEMA will use the information gathered at this week's meetings and try to get approval to use the criteria for evaluating those power companies' appeals. Meaning, if the criteria for conditions to purchase a new conductor change, some of those coops could receive more money to replace their conductors. That, Moffett said, could change the cost estimate for repairs from last year's storm.

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