Dane Golden/FEMAA home in Atascadero shows damage from the late 2003 San Simeon earthquake.
Federal auditors are calling on officials in California to forgo more than $17 million in unused disaster aid set aside following severe storms, flooding and mudslides that occurred in 2005 and 2006. They’re also questioning an additional $13 million used to rebuild a school in San Luis Obispo County that watchdogs say could have been simply repaired.
The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General issued two reports this month examining disaster relief funding. It also focused on aid for a Paso Robles school in a report last month.
The California Department of Parks and Recreation agreed with the findings from auditors in a March 8 report [PDF] that nearly two dozen planned recovery projects would not be done after all and funding of more than $1.1 million should be spent by Federal Emergency Management Agency elsewhere six years after the assistance was provided.
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However, authorities from Los Angeles County and the California Emergency Management Agency are challenging the Department of Homeland Security's second report [PDF]. Some $16 million remains after dozens of recovery projects were completed, but despite the passage of several years, California officials want to hold on to the money “because the county has not yet submitted a final claim for all large projects.”
That funding involves severe storms and flooding that in 2005 led to disaster declarations for Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and five other counties. A climate system nicknamed “Pineapple Express” dumped several inches of rain on California in a matter of days and as many as 10 feet of snow on the Sierra Nevada mountains, according to the National Climatic Data Center.
Mudslides in Ventura County covered a dozen homes in mud, traffic was held up in many areas of the state, and snow derailed an Amtrak train heading east from Oakland. California officials want to wait until other large recovery projects are completed before taking action on the remaining funds, even if several years have elapsed.
But federal auditors counter that California cannot use the excess funds to cover unanticipated cost overruns for ongoing projects. According to the second report from auditors, dated March 14: “We explained to them that federal rules prohibit such action, and that funding for each large project must be accounted for separately from all other projects. We clarified that funding for large projects is obligated based on estimated costs and funded on documented actual costs.”
The report adds that California was paid an administrative allowance for handling clerical work, and therefore, it should have been able to process completed projects “in a timely manner and in accordance with federal criteria.”
In yet another series of findings [PDF] issued last month, federal auditors questioned $13 million in “excessive funding” set aside for the Flamson Middle School building in Paso Robles damaged by an earthquake. According to that report: “(School) district officials believe that repairing the original building was not a viable option due to the extent of the damage it incurred, regardless of the repair-versus-replacement calculations. However, the engineering and general contractor’s assessment indicated that the building could be repaired.”
The project ended up costing $17.6 million, but auditors say the original cost estimate for repair was less than $5 million. School district officials and FEMA continue to believe that replacement of the school was warranted.
Flamson suffered damage during the 2003 magnitude 6.5 San Simeon earthquake, which killed two people, injured nearly 50 and damaged almost 500 structures in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.
A later report [PDF] by the California Seismic Safety Commission found that two women who died were in a Paso Robles building that had not been retrofitted for earthquakes. Nine buildings in the area that were retrofitted did not suffer major damage, “while many of the unretrofitted buildings sustained enough damage to require them to be demolished,” according to the report.