Back in April, schools in the small town of Hackleburg, Alabama (population about 1,400), as well as those in neighboring counties, were destroyed by massive, deadly tornadoes. While the schools are being rebuilt, students are in portable classrooms, leaving county officials and parents worried about their safety if, and most likely when, another tornado hits. Not to worry, FEMA to the rescue.
As John Roberts at Fox News reported, FEMA has offered to help these small counties in Alabama with small budgets by ponying up 75% of the cost to build storm shelters (@ $500K a pop each). Here's the kicker:
Under FEMA regulations, the tornado shelters are considered "temporary" -- only necessary while the schools are being repaired and the students are in the trailers. When the schools are rebuilt or repaired, FEMA rules state that the federal government has to get rid of the shelters.
That can happen three ways:
1) The schools can buy the shelter from FEMA (about $375,000);
2) The schools can find a buyer;
3) If neither 1) nor 2) is feasible, FEMA will give the schools more taxpayer money to demolish the shelter and haul away the debris.
Did you get that? They will build storm shelters, and then tear them down. In a town that lost almost everything, including 18 of their loved ones.
This so throughly boggles my mind, that I'm left speechless (which doesn't happen often), so here's the rest of the story without further comment, as well as the video of Robert's report*.
Neither school district figures it could find an outside buyer either, and even if they could, they don't know how they could dismantle and move shelters that have been built as permanent structures tough enough to handle 250 mph winds.
For them, that means there's no option left but to take the money from FEMA to tear down the shelter and haul away the rubble. The superintendents figure that cost would be more than $100,000.
"I don't like to use words like insane or crazy, but that's what it is," Warren said of the FEMA rule. "The FEMA regulations make about as much sense to me as the Navy building a new ship -- taking it out in the middle of the Atlantic and sinking it.”
New Alabama building codes require new schools to have a safe room inside. Because DeKalb county's Plainview High School is simply being repaired, it will be left with no tornado shelter when the FEMA structure is gone.
Schools in Hackleburg, where 18 people died in the April storms, are being rebuilt from the ground up so they will have integrated safe rooms. Still, Hollingsworth says there is plenty of need for the tornado shelter in the community.
"I think it's insane -- it's new territory," he said. "We are going to have a facility here that I think the entire community -- not just our school -- can use and we all paid for that. So it makes no sense to tear it down. None at all."
Alabama Reps. Robert Aderholt and Spencer Bachus have stepped in to try to change the policy. Bachus went all the way to the top, writing a letter to President Obama declaring the regulation "short-sighted and indefensible."
"We have limited resources," Bachus said. "But it's totally absurd to take a perfectly good shelter and destroy it. Use taxpayer money to build it, then use taxpayer money to destroy it."
FEMA is not backing away from its regulations, saying in a statement to Fox News: "We continue to evaluate all the options available to FEMA and the school district to ensure that each community is provided every federal resource that they are eligible for under the law while remaining proper stewards of the taxpayers' dollar.”
The counties are very appreciative that FEMA stepped in to fill a void in safety for so many hundreds of children. But the policy that will leave them no choice but to tear down the shelter is nothing less than absurd to school officials.
"It doesn't make a whole lot of sense from a taxpayer standpoint to see your tax dollars wasted," Hollingsworth said.
"We think this is just a terrible waste of taxpayer dollars," Warren said. "No wonder people are skeptical of government when they see waste like this."
*I can't get the video or link to the video to post. Maybe a mod can help?
UPDATED October 5, 2011
The good citizens of Alabama can rest a little easier knowing that our congressman have worked diligently to get FEMA to back down from its guidelines that required the new storm shelters to be torn down. Although there is no final agreement yet, FEMA officials have apparently been convinced that tearing down the shelters would not have been in the best interest of Alabama's citizens, or taxpayers in general.
WASHINGTON (October 5) – Congressman Robert Aderholt (AL-4) and Congressman Spencer Bachus (AL-6) said today they have been informed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that it will not force the demolition of emergency storm shelters at schools in Alabama.
FEMA officials told Congressmen Aderholt and Bachus that they have developed a plan for school administrators that will enable them to acquire the structures and keep them open to protect students and citizens in the community. FEMA is contacting the schools to discuss details of the proposal, but the congressmen said they have been assured by representatives of FEMA Director Craig Fugate that there is no threat of storm shelters being torn down or moved.
Full report here