FEMA Disallows Payment of $306 Million for Oroville Dam Repairs

"Two separate independent engineering reviews indicate that a variety of problems existed at the dam prior to the February 2017 floods. FEMA's Public Assistance can only fund work directly linked to the declared disaster, and so the grant assistance request of $306.4 million was not approved for the upper gated spillway," a FEMA spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.

California news organizations reported March 8 that FEMA announced it is disallowing $306 million requested by California officials to repair the Oroville Dam's flood-control spillways. That total represents nearly one-third of the costs the state incurred after the February 2017 crisis, a breach of the spillway that caused more than 180,000 people to evacuate.

The Sacramento Bee's Dale Kasler reported that FEMA spokeswoman Brandi Richard said it a statement that FEMA will not remburse California for costs related to the "upper gated spillway" because of pre-existing problems on the structure. The state plans to appeal the decision.

The decision means the costs are likely to be borne by local and regional water agencies, such as the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, that store water at Lake Oroville, Kasler reported.

FEMA approved another $205 million in funding for the dam repairs, which brought the total funding so far to $333 million, and is reviewing requests for additional reimbursements.

"Two separate independent engineering reviews indicate that a variety of problems existed at the dam prior to the February 2017 floods. FEMA's Public Assistance can only fund work directly linked to the declared disaster, and so the grant assistance request of $306.4 million was not approved for the upper gated spillway," Richard said in the emailed statement, according to Kasler's report.

The California Department of Water Resources announced March 7 that it received notification that day that FEMA had approved $205 million in federal funds to reimburse the state for spillway reconstruction costs. "The latest reimbursement is based on cost estimates provided by DWR last summer. DWR will provide updated cost estimates in the coming weeks and anticipates additional reimbursements will be approved," the agency's news release said, adding that DWR "will work with FEMA to provide further information to support the department's assertion that all reconstruction work should be eligible for reimbursement."

"We appreciate the hard work and commitment of FEMA staff, however are disappointed in some of their initial interpretations regarding cost eligibility," said Joel Ledesma, DWR deputy director of the State Water Project. "Our reconstruction work was necessary to safely operate the main spillway and ensure functionality of the emergency spillway. DWR plans to appeal FEMA’s determination as we believe all costs should be eligible for federal reimbursement."

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