No money for Calhoun County in $15.8 million tornado grant
by Tim Lockette
tlockette@annistonstar.com
Dec 20, 2012 | 3661 views |  0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MONTGOMERY --- Communities ravaged by the 2011 tornado outbreak will get an additional $15.8 million in funding for storm recovery, Gov. Robert Bentley announced Wednesday.

But Calhoun County won't get a dime, largely because Ohatchee and Webster's Chapel lacked infrastructure even before the storms.

"We didn't apply because we didn't qualify," County Manager Ken Joiner said.

Bentley's office announced Wednesday that nine storm-affected communities would benefit from the $15.8 million, which the state got as a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Tuscaloosa will get $3.5 million. Hackleburg will get $4.8 million for downtown redevelopment, and the town of Phil Campbell will get $2.4 million. Both towns had roughly the same population as Ohatchee, and both were nearly wiped off the map by the storms.

The April 27, 2011 tornado entered Calhoun County in the Ohatchee area, but well north of the town's center. It tore a gash through the county's most rural quarter, traveling through Webster's Chapel and New Liberty and exiting the county near Piedmont. Nine Calhoun County residents were killed.

More than a year and a half after the storms, Joiner said his staff is still applying for grants to help pay for storm recovery. But the county didn't apply for the grants released Wednesday, he said, because they were designed to rebuild things Calhoun County's storm zone never had -- such as multi-family buildings and public structures.

"There wasn't much infrastructure in that area," he said. "There were no apartment buildings and only one public structure that was damaged."

That structure was the Webster's Chapel Fire Department. Joiner said the fire department applies directly for grants, rather than going through the county.

So far, the county has received $4.5 million in state and federal grant money to help with cleanup. But they've spent even more. County officials have long been miffed about the $1.4 million in reimbursement they say they expected to recieve, but haven't seen yet.

"I don't know why it takes so long," Joiner said. "I guess it's just red tape and bureaucracy."

Most of those grants come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, through its Atlanta office, and go through the Alabama Emergency Management Agency for processing.

Attempts to reach FEMA officials Wednesday afternoon were not immediately successful. Joiner said he'd heard of a $140,000 grant, already released by FEMA, that is still in the hands of state officials.

Alabama EMA spokesman Yasamie August said the money is "in process."

She said that when EMA recieves the money, the agency has to send it to Montgomery for processing by the state's financial department. Unlike most state agencies, EMA is headquartered in Clanton, near the state's geographic center, for easier access to disaster areas.

August said the $140,000 would reach Calhoun County within a month or so.

"They should have it in four to six weeks," she said.

Capitol & statewide correspondent: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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