Controversial FEMA policy clarified

Levee and drainage districts along the river are breathing a sigh of relief Thursday. Click here to view press releases from lawmakers and FEMA.

KHQA has learned the Federal Emergency Management Agency has amended the controversial flood disaster assistance policy it issued back in February. You'll recall that policy stripped funding for flood fighting and clean-up from Tri-State levee districts. But now a new clarification issued by FEMA this morning essentially gives that funding back.

FEMA issued a written clarification of its controversial policy Thursday which essentially reverts back the way drainage districts were traditionally funded for flood fighting and clean-up. That means in case of a flood, folks along the river will get reimbursed as normal for expenses to fight the rising waters, as well as clean-up if they lose the fight.

But after being told drainage and levee districts would be taken care of for a month, Sny Island Drainage District Superintendent Mike Reed says the best thing about this clarification is that it's in writing.

Are folks here breathing a sigh of relief?

Reed said, "I think we feel better about the situation. It's something that we have to remain vigilant on because we didn't anticipate what happened on Feb. 25th. We have to stay on top of this."

Mike Klingner, Vice Chairman of the Upper Mississippi, Illinois Missouri Rivers Association said, "We have it in writing, that its clear, that they will assist in flood-fighting efforts and debris removal. This is very important until we are able to get a comprehensive plan in place to work long range improvements so we don't have to go through this type of flood fighting efforts in the future."

FEMA's clarification will help folks fighting the Mississippi River here in the Fabius Drainage District but that's not set in stone. A spokesperson with FEMA told KHQA the clarification is in place until a final policy is enacted and so far, no one knows what that might include.

FEMA says it's working with its partners, including the Army Corps of Engineers, on this final policy. But whatever they work out, lawmakers say they'll be watching to make sure the interests of those along the river are considered.

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin said, "We were to work with Corps of Engineers and FEMA to make sure we're reading from the same book."

A FEMA spokesperson gave us this statement:

"Today's announcement is a clarification of the policy issued back in February. FEMA is still continuing to work with its partners to address the questions and concerns raised by February's policy. There will be a further revised or final policy released. However today's clarification confirms while this process continues, there will be no gap in flood or repair assistance that impacted communities may be eligible for. FEMA will continue to work with its partners including the Army Corps of Engineers to update the policy." This conflict began because FEMA's policy essentially handed over its responsibilities of funding flood fights and clean-up to the Army Corps of Engineers.

But by law the Corps is unable to handle funding mechanisms...which left a gap in flood coverage for drainage districts.

You'll recall most lawmakers were not aware of FEMA's policy when we contacted them back in June.

In fact Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois told KHQA when he and other lawmakers took their concerns to FEMA's leader....he said it was all a misunderstanding.

Durbin says this clarification came as a direct result of pressure from here in the Tri-States.

U.S.Senator Dick Durbin said, "I want to commend KHQA and media in Western Illinois for bringing this matter to my attention because once we started hearing from the levee districts and other units of government and we took it to FEMA."