State to continue paying Joplin’s share of cleanup

JOPLIN (AP) — Missouri will continue paying all of Joplin’s share of the cost for picking up debris from a deadly tornado, even after the federal government reduces its contribution, Gov. Jay Nixon said Thursday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is paying 90 percent of the cost for cleaning debris from hardest hit areas, but after Sunday, that will drop to the 75 percent share the federal government typically pays for disaster recovery.

Nixon, who earlier this week said the state would cover the 10 percent of costs federal officials will not pay, announced Thursday that state government would start covering a larger share of the tab for cleanup costs so that local officials around Joplin would not have to provide any money.

“We will complete this mission. We will continue to move trucks. We will continue to clear parcels. We will continue to move this community forward,” Nixon said. “The state of Missouri will continue to stand with the people of Joplin throughout this process. Together, we will rebuild this vibrant community.”

A tornado on May 22 killed 160 people and damaged or destroyed about 8,000 homes and businesses in the Joplin area.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is coordinating the debris cleanup of streets and residential properties where the owners have granted permission for contractors to come on their property or where the city has declared a health nuisance. Commercial property owners must arrange their own debris removal, and some residential property owners also have used other debris haulers. Officials said that through the end of July, government contractors cleared 1,281 of the 1,485 residential lots in the area eligible for the expedited debris removal program and removed 1.4 million cubic yards of debris out of an estimated total of 1.5 million cubic yards.

Federal officials on Wednesday denied Missouri’s request to continue paying 90 percent of the debris removal cost until the end of August.

On Thursday, U.S. Sens. Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill and U.S. Rep. Billy Long released a statement expressing disappointment.

“Local and state government have worked hard to remove historic levels of destruction with the goal of finishing before the Aug. 7 deadline. The people of Joplin have faced extremely difficult challenges over the last several months and need to be afforded as much flexibility in their cleanup process as possible.”

Nixon already has pledged $150 million of state aid for disaster relief and recovery efforts. The biggest portion of that is likely to go to Joplin, but Missouri also faced tornados in St. Louis and Sedalia and flooding along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

Disaster recovery also is a topic that is expected to be discussed in a planned special legislative session this fall.

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