published Friday, October 11th, 2013

Government shutdown costs South Pittsburg $410,000 in federal flood aid

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    Rocks, mud and water caused heavy damage to cars seen parked at at housing development as South Pittsburg residents deal with the aftermath of flash flooding in July.
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SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. — The federal government shutdown has cost South Pittsburg $410,000 for flood prevention repair work.

The National Conservation Resource Service awarded the money last month after Marion County agreed to lend the city $102,000 needed to match the grant.

Overnight on July 10 and 11, heavy rains caused a fast-moving mudslide from South Pittsburg Mountain to tear through town, blasting through homes and businesses and leaving behind a layer of mud and tons of stone that business owners and residents spent weeks clearing away.

Besides downtown residents and businesses, major employers Lodge Manufacturing and Royal Remanufacturing Inc. sustained significant damage, and officials are worried about future flooding.

City Administrator Sammy Burrows said a National Conservation Resource Service engineer came to town recently to do some survey work on the problem areas before the preventive projects began.

"About an hour later, [the engineer] called me and said that the NCRS had withdrawn that money and sent it back to Washington, [D.C.]," Burrows said. "So, we had the money. Now, we don't have the money."

"They said it had something to do with this government shutdown," Mayor Jane Dawkins said Monday. "So, we've got to start from scratch and reapply."

Burrows said the city can reapply for the money, but he was told that "more than likely" it would go to Colorado, where major flooding occurred last month.

Dawkins said that, as other parts of the nation experience disasters, that puts South Pittsburg "way back."

"We're a little small, rural town and not a large population," she said. "That's the bottom line."

The resource service indicated that TVA was slow in its permitting process for the work, Burrows said.

Two days after Burrows found out the money had been lost, he said, he received a letter from TVA saying that "everything was fine."

TVA spokesman Mike Bradley said it's "unlikely" that the federal shutdown had any impact on that agency's permitting process.

"This government shutdown has frustrated a lot of folks, but TVA is self-funded and has not been impacted," he said.

Bradley said TVA received a permit application from the city of South Pittsburg on Sept. 20 and responded Sept. 25 with a letter stating that the city did not need a TVA permit for the proposed work.

"We really didn't need a permit from [TVA], but they gave us the OK to go ahead and start doing the work," Burrows said. "Of course, I wanted to get on the phone and call the NCRS, but the government is shut down. So, there's no place to call."

"It doesn't matter who we know or who we call," Dawkins said. "Our hands are tied right now. We're working on it."

City leaders also are unsure whether South Pittsburg will be able to come up with the "in-kind" matching money to get a $300,000 grant from the Tennessee Housing Development Agency.

Out of the hundreds of potentially eligible households identified in a recent damage survey, only 17 homeowners pre-applied for assistance at an event two weeks ago, Dawkins said.

Officials said there are restrictions on who is eligible to receive the money if the grant is approved.

For a household of four, for example, the combined gross income cannot exceed $46,600.

"We have not received one penny of assistance from the government at this point," Dawkins said. "It's not for a lack of trying. We are truly still dialing for dollars."

Staff writer Ben Benton contributed to this story.

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at ryanlewis34@gmail.com.

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