FEMA, state to fund majority of rain damage projects

The estimated cost for emergency response and 32 projects related to the December flooding is $2.5 million, but Laguna Beach won't have to foot the whole bill.

Federal and state agencies will fund 65% of the total if the Federal Emergency Management Agency reverses its decision not to reimburse the city for three hazard mitigation projects, a finance official said at Tuesday's City Council meeting.

"Our local FEMA office determined that three major projects — estimated total cost of $855,000 — were not presently eligible for funding because public improvement — two sewer mains and one street — had not yet been damaged," said Gavin Curran, director of the city's Finance Department. "The city intends to appeal this determination on the grounds that the public facility would sustain damage by a normal rain event that could be expected within five years if repairs were not made."

All three projects will go forward with or without FEMA funding for the stabilization of sewer mains at Dorn Court ($165,000), and 1280 Bluebird Canyon Drive ($285,000), and street stabilization at Pacific Vista and Gainsborough Drive ($405,000).

If the city's appeal is approved, FEMA and state reimbursements would total $1,638,300 of the $2.5-million total. The city's contribution will be $185,700.

If the appeal is denied, Curran said the city's Disaster Relief Fund would probably have to cover the funds for the hazard mitigation projects.

City Manager John Pietig said the Disaster Relief Fund more than likely will be tapped for the cost of dealing with the debris from an old and unpermitted burn dump on property the city bought from the DeWitt family and others. The dump was uncovered in the December rains.

City officials are still reviewing options, and the costs are unknown.

Pietig said he will call a meeting of the committee that created the Disaster Relief Fund. The group oversaw the funds derived from the voter-approved temporary half-cent sales tax that helped pay the city's share of the Bluebird Canyon restoration. The committee was established to make recommendations on fund disbursement.

Besides FEMA, state and city funding, estimated revenue for debris removal and repair of public facilities damaged in December included $328,300 from the Federal Highway Administration, $228,700 from insurance and $114,300 in contingency funding.

The contingency funding and the city's contribution were set aside by the council in the 2011-12 budget process.

"This report represents hundreds of hours of work," Mayor Toni Iseman said.

Many of those hours were spent by Bob Burnham.

"We affectionately refer to him as the Disaster Czar," Pietig said.

Burnham also served as the community recovery coordinator for the 2005 Bluebird Canyon landslide.

"I can't say enough about his service to the city," Pietig said.

Burnham said it was six days after the flood that he was called back into service, and by that time staff had done much of the dirty work.

"If I had been called at 2:30 in the morning I probably would have gone back to sleep," Burnham said. "They were out there shoveling mud. It was an amazing response. The city manager and the council deserve a lot of praise and credit."


FEMA-approved projects

Three small hazard mitigation projects have been approved by FEMA: raising the flood barriers at the Laguna Beach Animal Shelter; installation of a 30-inch concrete pipe at the Bark Park; and additional concrete deadweight to stabilize the Main Beach boardwalk.

The estimated cost of the three is $62,500.

However, a $21,000 project to repair the shelter parking lot would extend beyond the FEMA's 18-month deadline to complete small projects costing less than $68,000. So the city will use the funds to replace a Water Quality Department vehicle, which FEMA approved as an alternative project.

The funding will save the city the cost of replacing the vehicle this fiscal year and will be replaced by the city in the future for repairs to the creek in front of the shelter.

FEMA and the state will also pay most of the cost for the north storm drain at the Bark Park, the repair of the erosion on a fire suppression road, the city's insurance deductible, numerous street repairs, and $316,000 for citywide debris removal.

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