Cavalier Attitude

Federal officials last week made it perfectly clear how they feel about West Virginians, as the Federal Emergency Management agency denied a request from Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin for money to reimburse first responders, nonprofits and public agencies that depleted their own resources in the effort to help those affected by a chemical spill into the Elk River.

In its explanation, FEMA told Tomblin “Based on our review of all of the information available, it has been determined that the event was not of such severity and magnitude as to warrant grant assistance under this emergency declaration.”

Residents of central West Virginia might have a thing or two to say about the severity and magnitude of a chemical spill that made tap water unsafe even to bathe in, let alone drink, for hundreds of thousands of people, for weeks. And those on the front lines could be forgiven for wondering what it would take to be worthy of assistance.

Fortunately, two days after Tomblin received his rejection letter, FEMA provided an example. The town of Villa Grove, Ill., population 2,537, received $351,066 from FEMA for acquisition and demolition of eight residential structures and one public building located in the floodplains of the West Ditch and Embarras River.

“This acquisition permanently removes the structures from the floodplain and greatly reduces the financial impact on individuals and the community when future flooding occurs in the area,” said Andrew Velasquez III, FEMA Region IV administrator.

Yes, you read that correctly. In Barack Obama’s home state, hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal funding is available to reduce the potential impact of future events for a town of fewer than 3,000 people.

In West Virginia, a disaster that has already affected the physical and financial wellbeing of more than ten times that many people warrants a dismissive note and zero dollars.

Tomblin does have 30 days to appeal and says he is committed to “providing the detail necessary to demonstrate the assistance needed by the public safety agencies that have provided support to citizens since this crisis struck more than one month ago.”

He will need some help, and our members of Congress will surely do their best to make FEMA see the error of its ways. But he will also, apparently, need to depend on an attitude adjustment in Washington, D.C.