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The Daily



07-11-03: Taft visits flooded Mercer County

Governor declares states of emergency for Mercer, Auglaize, Van Wert and surrounding counties

The Daily Standard
    Gov. Bob Taft called the local flooding the worst he has seen in Ohio during his tenure as governor.
    "The damages are obviously very severe," Taft said Thursday while talking to volunteers and officials at the Central Services Building in Celina. "Thank God there has been no loss of life."
    Taft has declared a half-dozen West Central Ohio counties to be in states of emergency. After state Emergency Management Agency (EMA) officials do a local damage assessment, the agency will make a recommendation to Taft on whether the state should seek federal assistance. State EMA Director Dale Shipley and Taft both said they likely will seek federal intervention.
    Taft said he believes there is a "pretty good chance" the area would qualify for at least the most basic federal assistance - low-interest loans for repairs and rebuilding.
    A decision on federal assistance would come from President George W. Bush, who would rely on Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommendations to make his decision.
    "We will seek all sources of support to provide relief," Taft said.
    Shipley said he expects an initial state EMA damage assessment to be completed by sometime today. That means a decision from the White House could come as soon as next week, he said.
    A number of assistance programs already are in place, state and local officials said. Residents with damage to their homes can seek assistance through the county Department of Jobs and Family Services and also can seek a reduction in property taxes based on damage estimates. Additionally, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has funding available to assist livestock farmers in building temporary facilities to handle manure if existing facilities have been overrun by flood water.
    Mercer County Commissioner Jerry Laffin said other state and federal politicians would help the area lobby for federal help.
    Taft also commended local officials and volunteers - ranging from high school athletes to jail inmates - for their efforts in battling the flood.
    "It's neighbor helping neighbor," Taft said. "Everybody has really pulled together and that's very encouraging."
    Shipley talked about past flooding problems in the Fort Recovery area and the success of a long-term flood mitigation project there. With state assistance, several homes in flood-prone areas were purchased and the local firehouse was relocated to higher ground. This time around, Fort Recovery was one of the least-affected parts of the county when water started rising, he said.
    Shipley also talked about the general lack of flood insurance among homeowners statewide. Only about 10 percent of homeowners have adequate coverage, he said.
    "People who do not perceive a threat don't feel the need to get coverage," Shipley said, adding that flood insurance usually costs about as much as car insurance. "It's just a prudent thing if you're in a flood-prone area."
    Prior to Taft's arrival, there was some question as to how much access the media would have to the governor. Local government officials said Taft wanted to meet privately with local officials and volunteers who have helped battle floodwaters before a brief appearance before the media.
    But about an hour before Taft's arrival, The Daily Standard questioned the legality of the governor's planned private meeting. The newspaper questioned the meeting because at least one public body - the Mercer County Commissioners - would have a quorum in attendance, constituting a public meeting. Television and print media were held outside the emergency operations center at the Central Services Building while the situation was sorted out.
    Mercer County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Amy Ikerd scrambled to find case law to back up Taft's desire for a private meeting. She came up with an Ohio appellate court case that seemed to support closure of the meeting, but local officials finally bowed to the growing throng of media, and let them in after contacting the governor's office about the confusion.
    Taft did meet privately with Laffin and county EMA director Karl Kaiser before addressing the full crowd, including the media.


Phone: (419)586-2371,   Fax: (419)586-6271
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The Standard Printing Company
P.O. Box 140, Celina, OH 45822