The Times West Virginian

West Virginia

April 17, 2014

Official: $2M in chemical spill costs reimbursable

CHARLESTON — Public agencies and nonprofits that helped after a Jan. 9 chemical leak into the water supply could receive $2 million in reimbursements for their emergency work, a West Virginia homeland security official said.

Federal and state emergency officials briefed fire departments, paramedics and other government groups Wednesday on how to recoup costs. The Federal Emergency Management Agency first denied West Virginia’s request for the extra help, but last week reversed its decision after a state appeal.

It’s a small win in West Virginia, where nine counties that couldn’t use their contaminated water for days endured a $61 million economic hit, the state estimated.

“You wouldn’t believe how much we went through to get this one,” said Greg Myers of the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Myers said the $2 million estimate covers response costs incurred by state and local agencies and a few government-oriented nonprofits, such as volunteer fire departments. The total will likely grow, he said.

FEMA will cover 75 percent of the costs, while the state will pay for the rest.

There are limitations on the costs covered, which include overtime, temporary employees and contractors and use of equipment. Only spill expenses incurred from Jan. 9-20 can be reimbursed.

The FEMA aid won’t help numerous businesses — particularly restaurants — that were shuttered during the tap water ban. They could be eligible for low-interest loans through the Small Business Administration. Several have also sued Freedom Industries, the company that spilled the chemicals. But those lawsuits are frozen while Freedom undergoes bankruptcy proceedings.

The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department says it spent more than $200,000 responding to the spill. Administrator Lolita Kirk says more than $60,000 of it could be eligible for reimbursement.

Kanawha health officer Dr. Rahul Gupta said the department is still pursuing legal action to recoup costs. The county health board voted last week to join a lawsuit that the City of Charleston plans to file.

The FEMA aid won’t help numerous businesses — particularly restaurants — that lost profits while shuttered during the tap water ban. Their options are more limited.

Businesses could be eligible for low interest loans through the Small Business Administration. And dozens have also sued Freedom Industries, the company that spilled the chemicals. But those lawsuits are frozen while Freedom undergoes bankruptcy proceedings.

The spill prompted a water-use ban for days for 300,000 residents in Boone, Cabell, Clay, Jackson, Kanawha, Lincoln, Logan, Putnam and Roane counties.

President Barack Obama signed an emergency declaration Jan. 10 for the nine-county area, allowing FEMA to coordinate disaster-relief efforts. FEMA provided about 7 million liters of water and more than 130,000 meals.


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