The storm events of December 2009 and January 2010 caused the most damage of any winter storms in recent history, eclipsing the damage caused by the two storm events in 2007. The preliminary storm damage estimate provided to the President in 2007 for purposes of obtaining the federal disaster declaration was approximately $33 million. Ultimately, the total actual cost of repairing the 2007 storm damage will exceed $100 million.

While the preliminary storm damage estimate for the 2009-2010 storms was comparable to the 2007 damage estimate, upon a more exhaustive assessment it is clear that the 2009-2010 storm damage will far exceed anything Iowa has ever seen before. One cooperative alone experienced almost $50 million of damage. More than 700 miles or 60% of that one system will have to be replaced. It is likely that the total cost of these recent storms will exceed $200 million.

Compared to the process employed during the 2007 storm, Iowa’s electric cooperatives’ experience requesting FEMA and State of Iowa assistance in managing the rebuilding of their facilities due to the 2009-2010 has been quite favorable thus far due to:

  • A consistent approach to what is eligible storm damage
  • The cooperatives’ well established working relationship with the State of Iowa Department of Homeland Security continues to thrive Building upon the experience of 2007 storm events Numerous training/information sessions
  • Background: 2009-2010 ice storm figures
  • 14 Iowa cooperatives submitted requests for damage assistance
  • Total damage estimate: $166,000,000
  • Costs of damages for the top four affected cooperatives:
    • $53,235,000 — $32,300,000 — $22,000,000– $19,900,000
    • More than 28,000 electric-co-op member consumers in Iowa
    • lost power because of the ice storm
    • Collectively, the ice storm broke more than 2,800 utility poles
    • and knocked down almost 1,000 miles of power line

In 2007, FEMA did not require compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act for those projects which involved rebuilding of overhead line within an existing previously disturbed right-of-way. FEMA has determined that with the implementation of a new Electrical Utility Repair policy, DAP 9580.6, the agency has a more clearly defined set of criteria for providing FEMA Public Assistance funding for rebuilding of damaged electrical distribution systems. This policy allows for the building to “current codes and standards” which will result in shortening the distance between poles, the “span length” of the electrical system. When determining the costs for the rebuilding of the electrical systems as many as 26 poles per mile could be feasible. Most of the existing damaged electrical systems have between 17 and 19 poles per mile. FEMA has determined that most new poles will not be placed in the same locations as the existing poles within the distribution system thus triggering the need for a historic properties review under Section 106.

Iowa’s cooperatives for years have argued that this type of review is futile. Most of the line to be rebuilt will be located within previously disturbed road right-of-way. Thousands of miles of this type of right-of-way have been subjected to historic property review without the discovery of anything archeologically significant.

FEMA’s regulations (44 CFR 10.8(d)(2)) provide that the repair, reconstruction, restoration, elevation, retrofitting, upgrading to current codes and standards, or replacement of any facility in a manner that substantially conforms to the preexisting design, function, and location; is categorically excluded from the preparation of environmental assessments because FEMA has determined that those types of work have no significant effect on the human environment. This is the case with Iowa’s restoration projects, yet FEMA has concluded that Iowa’s cooperatives must spend precious time and resources investigating these disturbed right-of-ways with very little chance of finding a historic property.

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