07-11-03: Taft visits flooded Mercer
|Governor declares states of emergency for Mercer, Auglaize, Van Wert and surrounding
By TIMOTHY COX
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
"We will seek all sources of support to provide relief," Taft
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.
SUBSCRIBE TO THE DAILY STANDARD
(419)586-2371, Fax: (419)586-6271
All content copyright 2003
The Standard Printing
P.O. Box 140, Celina, OH