Three northwest Iowa electric cooperatives and Sanborn Municipal Utilities have filed a formal appeal over the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s decision to deny disaster aid for severe storms this past spring.
An ice storm in April that passed through Dickinson, Osceola, Lyon, Sioux and O’Brien counties caused 20-million dollars worth of damage to power lines. Tim Coonan, a spokesman for the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives, says the coops have gotten FEMA help before in similar situations.
“This time, a pretty abrupt change, FEMA denied our application,” Coonan says, “and so now we are in the formal appeals process, hoping to get that decision changed.”
FEMA has ruled disaster aid could not be issued because the utilities did not conduct comprehensive laboratory testing on every mile of wire every year. Coonan says it’s the first time in the nation FEMA has offered that response in a case like this — and the coops want to know why, since the test is not required to meet any state or industry regulations.
“So we’re pretty confused,” Coonan says. “Governor Branstad’s gotten involved. The congressional delegation has gotten involved and is trying to figure out the answer to that very question.”
This appeal is attracting attention from beyond the state’s borders according to Coonan.
“I don’t think that it’s lost on other states like Colorado and South Dakota who have experienced some significant disasters and REC areas have been hit fairly hard,” Coonan says. “You know, we don’t know if this is a FEMA Region 7 decision out of Kansas City or if this is something that’s going to ripple through the country.”
If FEMA doesn’t reverse its decision, the three northwest Iowa coops and the city-owned utility in Sanborn will have to borrow the $20 million to complete repairs. That means a significant increase in the electric rates for the 10,000 customers who are served by the Lyon Rural Electric Cooperative, Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative, Osceola Rural Electric Cooperative and Sanborn Municipal Utilities.