The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

May 14, 2013

Attendees of tornado meeting say funds should be used on infrastructure

For The News Courier

— CULLMAN— Infrastructure repairs were the most common need expressed by attendees at a public meeting held today to gather input on how $49.1 million in pending federal disaster relief funds should be spent. The funds would be available to assist only those areas impacted by the April 2011 tornadoes.     

The Alabama Department of Community and Economic Affairs conducted the meeting at Cullman City Hall to identify the greatest needs that remain two years after the disaster. In addition to infrastructure recovery, ADECA officials said that other common requests are likely to be for housing rehabilitation and economic development projects.

More than 50 county commissioners, mayors, consultants and residents listened as ADECA officials described what might be eligible for funding and how the grant process will work.

While the timeline for the availability of the funds is still pending, ADECA’s Shabbir Olia said communities should begin outlining their projects and getting cost estimates so they can be ready to apply for a grant.

"Before you start on your project, we want you to come and talk to us about it," said Olia, manager of ADECA’s Community and Economic Development Programs Unit. He said that ADECA can't guarantee grant funds, but might find something that could help with a proposed project.

In December, Governor Robert Bentley awarded more than $15.7 million in grants for disaster recovery projects in nine communities. ADECA also secured $7.7 million in 2012 to help rebuild or renovate approximately 300 houses in 20 affected Alabama counties. 

ADECA’s Al Jones said projects not funded by the first round of disaster relief should be submitted again and, with more funding available, may have a better chance of being funded this time.

A few weeks after the storms struck the state, Gov. Robert Bentley assigned ADECA the responsibility for coordinating long-term tornado recovery efforts.

The public meeting was part of the process required to prepare a statewide action plan for the funding. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will review the state’s plan to ensure the proposed funding meets requirements.