Portland again denied aid after February flood

Ionia County

PORTLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — The city of Portland is again questioning why Michigan State Police determined it does not qualify for financial relief after receiving a second denial late last week.

Portland City Manager Tutt Gorman first asked the state to reconsider nearly two months ago after being told the city, as well as Belding and Ionia County, did not exhaust all local resources during an ice jam that led to widespread flooding earlier this year.

“Unfortunately, the most recent letter causes more concern and raises new issues in clarity,” Gorman told News 8 Wednesday.

“Having completed this review, the State concluded that supplemental funding under Section 19 of Act 390 is not warranted as the local commitment did not place unreasonably great demands upon the county or affected local jurisdictions,” an Oct. 18 letter sent by Capt. Emmitt McGowan, deputy state director for MSP Emergency Management and Homeland Security, reads.

“The analysis doesn’t make sense,” Gorman responded. “Some of the terms don’t seem to make sense. And again, we have some of the best legal counsel in the state looking at this, including myself, and so we just really want to try to understand better — not just for the city of Portland but clarity for communities across the state.”

The ice jam flooded the basements of several businesses along the Grand River and forced residents from their homes.

News 8 questioned MSP on what else the city should have done to qualify for the aid. Public Information Officer Dale R. George sent the following response:

“When determining a recommendation concerning authorizing an expenditure from the disaster and emergency contingency fund, the Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division examines the financial impacts on the affected communities in addition to the jurisdictions’ requests for resources from the state. These resource requests are an indicator as to whether response efforts were beyond the capabilities of a community to address and that there had been an exhaustion of local effort. In this case, there were no requests to the state beyond what is routinely provided to a community without a declaration. The jurisdictions also did not identify any unmet needs to suggest an exhaustion of effort or unreasonably great demand on the jurisdictions’ funds.”

For instance, George explained municipalities can request state excavation equipment once an emergency declaration is approved and none did in February. 

Gorman pointed out it took several days before Ionia County received the state of emergency. He believes the state is being subjective in interpreting criteria municipalities must meet to qualify for aid. Specifically, “exhaustion of local effort”.

“To the public that might sound very different, but it’s actually specifically defined as utilizing all of the applicable resources in your emergency response plan,” Gorman explained. “Here that completely took place.”

Through all of this, Gorman said efforts to meet with the state have been unsuccessful. He and George said they’re working to set something up at the beginning of November with the Michigan Municipal League.

Chris Hackbarth, director of state and federal affairs for MML, sent News 8 the following statement in response to the funding denial:

“Communities don’t plan for disasters, so having a reliable and responsive system for disaster relief is crucial to local governments. This fact is even more important in recent years as state support for local governments has lagged and community’s budgets are continually falling behind. Local communities need assurance that there is a safety net they can rely on during a time of disaster. Whether we’re talking about the ice dams and flooding in Portland, or the tornado that struck that community previously, or the flooding that has hit southeast Michigan repeatedly in recent years, or the Fraser sink hole in 2017, or the flooding that devastated the Upper Peninsula in 2018, this is an issue that matters to communities of all sizes, in every corner of the state. The recent Michigan State Police denial of Portland’s reconsideration request is concerning for all 520-plus Michigan Municipal League member communities because it now raises questions about what criteria the state police will be using to determine eligibility for disaster relief. The denial letter cites undefined criteria like ‘unreasonably great’ and ‘demonstrated exhaustion of local effort’. Communities have come to rely on an objective formula and calculation of costs from the disaster as a percent of their local operating budgets for determining their eligibility for grant relief.  The recent letter from the Michigan State Police seems to bring the applicability of that objective formula into question. The Michigan Municipal League continues to support a clear, objective process that all communities in our state can rely on during instances of disaster to help weather the situation and preserve the health, safety and welfare of their residents without crippling the budgets of the local communities and jeopardizing other critical services.”

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