Atmore officials seek storm money

Published 3:52 am Monday, June 12, 2006

By By Janet Little Cooper
Almost two years after Hurricane Ivan dealt Atmore a devastating blow, the City of Atmore is still attempting to recover from the damages.
At the request of Mayor Howard Shell, a meeting was facilitated through Congressman Jo Bonner's office this week to bring together all of the players essential to Atmore's recovery efforts.
Representatives from AMIC (Alabama Municipal Insurance Corporations), Alabama Dept. of Insurance, Alabama Emergency Management Agency, FEMA and Congressman Bonner's office gathered Thursday morning around a table covered with graphic pictures of Atmore's devastation during Ivan and Dennis at City Hall to resolve issues the city has faced during recovery.
"I have asked for everyone to come to help us resolve some of the issues we have in the city, " Mayor Howard Shell said. "We are still in recovery from Ivan and Dennis. And we have a lot of gaps that are left unanswered. We received a lot of damage to residential and municipal properties. We have dealt with so many different people and the rules keep changing and it has gotten confusing. We are a governmental entity.
"This town and council work for the people," Shell continued. "We have not been able to get funds in. We have spent three quarters of a million dollars that we haven't been reimbursed for it yet. I am going to the bank next week to get a line of credit just to keep the city going. How can we load a plane and go to Bangladesh and other foreign places immediately with no problems when we can't get help because of all the paperwork and red tape we have been through? We just want to be made whole and be back where we were before the storms. We keep running into a blank wall."
The City has been turned down for financial assistance from FEMA regarding repairs being made to the municipal ballparks including fencing and lights due to the belief that those items were covered under a section of the cities insurance policy with AMIC.
"You can not take just one paragraph and define the policy," AMIC representative Robert Buaise said. "The policy excludes fencing and lights. In a blanket policy it is possible that a location is omitted. Therefore, a broad coverage is put in there to protect everything. Fencing attached to a building is covered, but freestanding fences at a specific location are not. A premium has to be added to cover those specifically."
With the city spending almost $1 million in fencing and lights, Becca Smith with the City of Atmore stated that such a premium has been added to cover fences and lighting that may be damaged in the future.
FEMA deputy director and infrastructure chief out of Atlanta, Del Streid, could not speak for previous FEMA representatives who had approved the project for the city and could not account for the misunderstanding. He however told Shell the proper procedure needed to bring completion to the matter.
"We have followed the FEMA guidelines," Shell said. "We have been told in good faith that everything was approved. The first issue we have to resolve now is to determine who is responsible for the expense – the insurance or FEMA."
The city is to write an appeal that will then be sent to the Alabama Department of Insurance, which will then form an opinion and submit a letter to FEMA stating that either the fencing is covered by the insurance or not.
"FEMA will estimate the cost to put things back as they were in pre-disaster condition," Streid said. "We pay what we find to be a reasonable cost."
According to the Joana Ellis, a representative from the Alabama Department of Insurance, the Insurance Commissioner will return from Washington, D.C. the latter part of next week at which time he can review the information from the city and the meeting before submitting it to FEMA.

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