State to cover full matching funds for FEMA grants

HOUGHTON — The state of Michigan announced Friday it will cover up to $7.4 million in matching funds — the full amount needed — for flood-battered Upper Peninsula communities receiving grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) public assistance programs.

Under preliminary estimates, public agencies in Gogebic, Houghton and Menominee counties are eligible for $30 million in relief. A federal disaster was declared for the three counties following the June 17 storms and flash flooding.

Agencies receiving FEMA grants must match 25 percent of the funds. Gov. Rick Snyder authorized covering half the match in September. On Friday, Snyder upped the state contribution to the full 25 percent, citing the burden even the halved cost would impose on cash-strapped rural communities.

“The June disaster had a significant financial impact on the affected communities in the Upper Peninsula. We are committed to ensuring our residents are provided the resources necessary to help get them back on their feet,” Snyder said in a release. “With the state taking on the cost of the entire match, the communities won’t have such a significant burden on their budgets from this natural disaster.”

Locally, the money will assist entities that are still repairing damage to federal aid routes, said Hancock City Manager Glenn Anderson.

The Road Commission’s original match requirements were around $7 million, said Road Engineer Kevin Harju — nearly the commission’s annual budget. After the full matches from the state for FEMA money, that amount is down to $3 million.

“We’ve been trying to complete work as fast as we can due to the limited construction season, and trying to work on how we’re going to fund the match requirements,” Harju said. “Now we won’t have to worry about not being able to do some of the repairs on the FEMA-eligible projects.”

With only Federal Highway Administration matches left, Hancock’s local share for repairs dropped Friday from $1.6 million to $670,000.

“To have the state pay all of the FEMA match is a significant relief for all local governments, and a significant step by the governor,” Anderson said.

At a 12.5 percent share, Houghton had to pay about $1.5 million in local costs, said City Manager Eric Waara. That has been reduced to $500,000 on major street work.

“We still have our Federal Highway (Administration) stuff to contend with, and a lot of the unreimbursable costs we’ve incurred, but this match for the construction work itself is definitely a shot in the arm,” he said. “We can forge ahead with some confidence.”

MONDAY: Officials representing Copper Country communities traveled to Lansing recently and convinced state officials to assume the local match for federal disaster assistance.