FEMA rejects Mo. request to extend debris deadline

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Federal officials on Wednesday rejected a request from Missouri’s governor to extend an emergency debris removal program in Joplin, where a May 22 tornado wiped out a big chunk of the town and killed 160 people.

Under the Expedited Debris Removal Program, the federal government pays 90 percent of the cost of rapid removal in the hardest-hit areas after a catastrophic event such as the tornado, which damaged or destroyed about 8,000 homes and businesses in the southwest Missouri community.

Once the program expires, the government’s share drops to 75 percent.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency allowed 75 days for removal of debris under the program, and that ends on Sunday.

Gov. Jay Nixon had requested an extension to Aug. 31, but FEMA declined.

“I am extremely disappointed by the federal government’s denial of our request for an extension of the Expedited Debris Removal Program,” Nixon said Wednesday evening in an emailed statement. “This decision by FEMA dramatically increases the cost burden on state and local governments as we continue our efforts to complete this vital mission.”

On Monday, Nixon said the state would pay Joplin’s share of the debris removal tab, or 10 percent under the debris program, to spare the city the extra burden at a time when local tax revenues have taken a significant hit.

The state’s share will go up to 25 percent of the remaining cost after Sunday.

As of the end of July, government contractors had cleared 1,281 of the 1,485 residential lots eligible for the program and had removed 1.4 million cubic yards out of an estimated 1.5 million cubic yards of debris.

While Nixon and Missouri’s two U.S. senators had sought the extension, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is coordinating the cleanup, said it was confident the remaining rubble could be cleared by the end of the week.

Nixon planned to be in Joplin on Thursday afternoon to discuss the debris removal process further.

“While our cost burden will now increase, our determination will not diminish,” Nixon said. “Rebuilding Joplin is a mission Missouri will complete.”

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