Muskogee County Commissioners plan to dip into pandemic relief funds to offset the costs of repairing public infrastructure damaged by a severe winter storm in February.
Commissioners on Monday approved a resolution authorizing the distribution of $ 150,000 to each of the three districts from the CARES Act account. The decision was made after the Federal Emergency Management Agency refused to reimburse the county for “permanent repairs.”
Emergency management director Jeff Smith said the county would be reimbursed for expenses related to its emergency response to a winter storm that warranted a statewide disaster declaration. Muskogee County and surrounding counties were among the state’s 16 eligible for individual assistance, but reimbursement for permanent repairs to public infrastructure was limited.
Damage from soil contraction and expansion caused by sub-zero temperatures and the rapid thaw that occurred afterwards caused most of the damage to county roads. Commissioners said the freeze-thaw cycle combined with snow and ice that accumulated during the severe winter storm “turned the roads into Jell-O” in some areas.
While FEMA typically reimburses local governments for damage to public infrastructure at a rate of 75% when a disaster is declared, permanent damage from the winter storm proved more difficult to quantify. Unlike damage from ice, flood or tornadoes, commissioners said there were no clearly defined guidelines for damage from extremely cold temperatures.
Commissioner Kenny Payne said extreme temperatures caused more damage to District 3 roads than any disaster reported during his tenure. The damage to roads across the county was described by commissioners as “significant” and “major”, and the costs were “significant” for all three districts.
District 1 Commissioner Ken Doke said the cost of the repairs had nearly exhausted funds budgeted for road repairs. The financing of the CARES law will complement these accounts.