PONGSONA DAMAGE NEARS US$70 MILLION ON GUAM

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Feb. 10) - Supertyphoon Pongsona is expected to generate more than 1,500 separate requests by the government of Guam for federal assistance to rebuild, repair and replace government property, as well as for other government storm-related costs.

The overall cost of GovGuam damage is expected to reach $70 million, according to officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and local taxpayers are expected to pick up about $17.5 million of that amount.

The local share of typhoon costs could drop to $7 million if the federal government agrees to reduce Guam's share.

In comparison, damage to government property from July's Typhoon Chata'an is expected to cost $8 million. About half of the 1,000 requests from that storm have been processed and paid.

FEMA manages the public assistance grant program, which helps local and state governments pay for the cost of debris removal and emergency protective measures immediately after a storm, and which also pays for permanent work to roads and bridges, water facilities, buildings and equipment, utilities, parks and recreational facilities.

The single largest expense from Pongsona -- about $30 million -- is from the Guam Power Authority, to replace power lines and utility poles.

According to FEMA, the power agency was not required to insure the lines and poles because of the difficulty in obtaining that type of insurance, so the damage is eligible for public assistance grants.

The next largest expense will be for GovGuam buildings and their contents.

Altogether, the storm's toll on GovGuam buildings could reach $27 million, said Adrienne Loerzel, the governor's authorized representative in charge of coordinating the reimbursement requests.

So far, only five requests for public assistance grants have been approved by FEMA, totaling $1.29 million, including a $766,000 request by the Guam Economic Development and Commerce Authority, which needs to replace furniture, computers and interior fixtures at its office on the fifth floor of the ITC building in Tamuning.

The storm blew in the agency's floor-to-ceiling windows, throwing furniture, paperwork and office equipment against walls toward the center of the building.

Once the windows broke, there were few concrete walls to prevent the wind from blowing in along the ceiling and wrecking interior offices.

GEDCA marketing officer Erica Perez said the agency lost many computers, including the information contained in their hard drives.

She said part of the money GEDCA will receive for office repair will be shared by the Guam Housing Corporation, which was located next to GEDCA. Both agencies have temporarily relocated to the second floor of the building.

FEMA held "kickoff" meetings with agency representatives late last month, starting a 60-day time clock for agencies to submit requests for grants.

"We're anticipating that by April 1st we'll have most of the projects in," said Dan Best, FEMA infrastructure branch chief.

He said agencies have six months from the disaster declaration to complete emergency work, such as cleanup and protective measures, and 18 months to complete permanent projects. The deadlines can be extended, he said.

Best said grants are approved based on the amount of damage, taking into account special considerations, such as whether the damage was insured or whether hazard mitigation is necessary to prevent damage in future storms.

Environmental, historic preservation and flood plain management are also special considerations.

Best said the grant process changed in 1998, to allow agencies to play a greater role in filling out their own applications for smaller projects, allowing them to set priorities for storm recovery. He said the process also gives agencies a better understanding of the types of losses or damage that are eligible for federal grants.

The airport, the Department of Education and the Department of Parks and Recreation face the prospect of paying for typhoon repairs on their own because they failed to obtain required insurance after 1997's Supertyphoon Paka.

Best said the insurance issue will be addressed on a case-by-case basis because in many cases insurance was required only for part of a building or part of a government complex.

Insurance coverage must be at least for the amount of damage sustained by the building the last time federal assistance was received.

"There's this insurance question of what's going to be eligible (for federal assistance) because in the past it wasn't insured as it was supposed to be," Loerzel said. "There's a lot of different ways to look at that. We may have some options, in terms of returning old money so the condition no longer applies or looking at alternate sources of federal funding."

Government House is an example in which GovGuam is considering returning money received after Paka and filing a new claim for damage sustained during Pongsona.

GovGuam received $24,600 to repair Government House after Paka -- $21,317 to replace floor tiles, with the balance used to repair air conditioners.

Best said GovGuam does have the option of returning old grant money, provided the grant has not been completed, as is the case for Government House. The work on the floor never was completed because matching tile had not been found.

"We don't necessarily like to do that because we're not in the business of taking away grants," Best said. "If that's the most logical solution and it makes sense, we'll do it."

February 10, 2003

Pacific Daily News: www.guampdn.com 

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