The federal government won’t pay to replace the city’s main sewage pump station, which was flooded and knocked off its foundation by Tropical Storm Irene.
Replacing the building with a new one that’s attached to its foundation will cost $3.2 million. If the Federal Emergency Management Agency had covered the project, it would have paid for 75 percent of the work. The state would have covered the remaining 25 percent.
Instead, city taxpayers are footing the bill.
The item is in the proposed 2014 capital budget. If the budget is approved, the city will take out a loan to cover the cost.
In the meantime, city officials are appealing FEMA’s decision, but they don’t expect a response to their appeal for a year or more.
The city can’t wait that long to fix the building, Director of Operations William Winkler said.
“It is critically important. It couldn’t be more important,” he said.
The station pumps much of the city’s sewage to the sewage treatment plant. There are three pumps inside to keep up with the volume. Those pumps are working now — city workers made quick fixes within hours of Irene so sewage wouldn’t back up onto city streets.
“It’s totally functional, but it’s functional by repairs,” Winkler said.
FEMA had expected the station to be repaired, not replaced. The agency approved a $745,000 repair project, of which FEMA would pay $559,000.
But city workers weren’t finished with their investigation of the problems at the site when FEMA made that decision last year. Engineers discovered “instability” in the building and determined the building had been moved about an inch off its foundation, Winkler said. He said that leaves the building very vulnerable in another flood, and it could end up moving far more than an inch.
“If something comes again, like Irene, who knows what will happen?” he said.
The city sent FEMA a request in January for funds to replace the building, arguing that was the only way to fix the problem.
“They denied that,” Winkler said.
FEMA spokesman Don Caetano said the agency made its first decision based on the information it had last year.
“Our folks told me it was deemed repairs could get it to where it was pre-storm,” he said.
He added the city had a right to appeal if it disagreed with the agency’s verdict and had documentation to prove the foundation problem. He also noted FEMA offered the city another $12,000 in June.
The funds are held by the state until the city finishes its work on the station. That means if the city wins the appeal, it might end up getting money just as quickly as it would have gotten the repair money, Caetano said.
“They wouldn’t get the money either way until they finish the work,” he said, adding the city is unlikely to finish the replacement project before the appeal is heard.