Claremore Daily Progress

September 9, 2012

Helm double dips with double chip

FEMA funds repair roadway twice despite guidelines

Salesha Wilken
Staff Reporter

CLAREMORE — Questions continue to surface regarding the State Auditor’s report evaluating the use of Federal Emergency Management Agency funds by Rogers County Commissioner Mike Helm.

FEMA documents and emails acquired by a Claremore Daily Progress’ Open Records request reveal the possible duplication of funds for work on multiple county roads.
Additionally, the funds were used to double chip seal roads, an expense not normally permitted under FEMA guidelines.
“It depends on the disaster,” Helm said. “Single chip back to single chip.”
Helm said that sometimes double chip is approved but would not elaborate without review of   project worksheets.
The issue began with the 2011 snowstorms, which became FEMA Disaster-1985.
Robin Anderson, Helm’s FEMA records coordinator,  submitted documentation to FEMA regarding road, equipment damages and labor due to the snowstorms.
However, FEMA did not approve all expenses submitted by Anderson, partially due to the double chip seal on some roadways.
Another reason for denial was that the expenses were not allowed due to equipment purchases that were made months after the disaster occurred.
 “Applicant [Rogers County District 2] has purchased two new trucks, neither truck is listed in the Force Account Equipment summary as doing eligible work in the incident period,” according to FEMA documents. The new vehicles cost approximately $140,000.
During snow disasters, FEMA will write out what repairs are suppose to happen, Helm said.
The project worksheets show the work the county has done or hopes to do, according to Helm.
Sometimes, FEMA does not agree with the assessment and then the applicant can appeal the decision.
“If it is under a place we don’t agree it goes under mitigation,” Helm said. “In Disaster-1985, we had a difference of opinion with them [FEMA].”
Helm brought in the Oklahoma Department of Transportation to inspect and provide comment to FEMA for the work.
In a letter dated Sept. 26, 2011, Shannon Sheffert, ODOT local government division engineer, outlined the roads that were submitted to FEMA and the proposed damage.
Sheffert included a recommendation of action to provide assistance for the roads.
“We looked at several roads in District 2 and determined that several were damaged by the snowstorm event and several others were also damaged by the snow, but they had the road surface was poor or damaged prior to the storm event and were not eligible for FEMA repair funds,” according to Sheffert’s letter.
The majority of the roads Sheffert reviewed were “in my [Sheffert] opinion is not eligible for reimbursement.”
However, FEMA did provide reimbursement for roadwork. One example of such work was EW 330 Road in the Oologah-Talala area.
The road was submitted as part of Disaster-1985 and EW 330 road was repaired, including the replacement of the chip and seal surface, according to documents.
To complicate matters, this roadway was listed on the alternative project list for the $13 million in FEMA funding that Helm promoted during his recent re-election campaign.
The funds were originally designated for the Keetonville Road project due to the 2008 flood disaster, however Helm submitted information for an alternate project instead of rebuilding the existing roadway. That alternative project included more than 130 miles of road resurfacing.
EW 330 was included in that project and work was completed, according to Helm. EW 330 is located in Oologah-Talala area more than 15 miles from Keetonville Road where the 2008 flood damage ocurred.
This roadway along with others including 370 Road, 360 Road, 480 Road were included on both the Disaster-1985 and alternative projects lists. Helm received more than $500,000 from FEMA for chip and seal repairs on these roads through Disaster-1985. Helm received a portion of the $13 million from the FEMA alternative project for the same roads.
Essentially, Helm received duplicate funds for the same roadways for chip and seal repairs within a year.
Helm previously stated that a chip and seal roadway would last for approximately five years or more.
Some of these repairs were for double chip and seal repairs, although no clarification was provided as to if this would be an allowable expense through FEMA.
Oklahoma Emergency Management was contacted to confirm the eligibility of this expense but officials were unable to comment.
Double chip seal roads can last significantly longer than single chip and the majority of the roadways were repaired as double chip roadways.
Anderson was contacted for comment and simply replied, “I couldn’t answer that question right off, Mike usually deals with those questions.”
However, she did say a portion of the roadway was fixed through the snowstorm disaster and the rest was repaired through the alternate project. When asked about the duplication of funds, Anderson said, “They [FEMA] don’t ever pay for the same road twice.”
The documentation explains the situation differently and Anderson prepared the paperwork personally.