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UI flood recovery to forge ahead despite audit

BY KRISTEN EAST AND JORDYN REILAND | JUNE 29, 2012 6:30 AM

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State and local officials came out in full force Thursday to defend the University of Iowa's flood-recovery projects after a federal office recommended reversing replacement decisions on three of the UI facilities.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General released the report on June 19.

"We audited the Federal Emergency Management Administration Region VII's decisions to fund the replacement, rather than the repair, of flood-damaged buildings at the UI," the report said. "We initiated this audit based on an anonymous complaint we received that FEMA Region VII did not correctly decide to replace university buildings."

The audit's objective was to determine whether the FEMA Region VII office correctly applied the "50 percent rule" when deciding to fund replacement of Hancher Auditorium, Voxman Music Building, and the old Art Building following the 2008 flood. The "50 percent rule" refers to the fact that FEMA can fund replacement, rather than repair, when repair costs exceed 50 percent of the replacement costs or if the facility is considered destroyed.

UI officials say they will continue to carry on with the flood-recovery plans without any disruption.

"We are proceeding with our current plan, staying the course and staying with our timetable," UI spokesman Tom Moore said.

Moore said no de-obligation of federal awards has occurred, despite the reccomendation.

Mark Schouten, the administrator of the Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division, said if FEMA's policy changes, it should be prospective rather than retroactive.

"An important element of an efficient recovery process is clear and consistent application of federal policies," he said in a statement. "FEMA officials have repeatedly affirmed their decisions to replace the … facilities, and the university has relied upon FEMA's decisions since the first analysis was completed in December 2008."

This retroactive reccomendation only hampers the already long process of recovery, Schouten said in the statement.

"Flood recovery is difficult enough, and retroactive measures would insert unnecessary uncertainty into the recovery process to communities across the country," Schouten said.

University officials had planned to start construction on replacements for Hancher, Clapp Recital Hall, and the Voxman Music Building within the next 18 months, The Daily Iowan has previously reported.

Schouten said UI and state officials will continue working with FEMA to resolve these issues.

"FEMA has the opportunity to officially respond to the [Office of Inspector General] recommendations, and we will work with FEMA to add our perspective to the policy debate," he said.

In several statements released Thursday, Iowa politicians praised local and state leaders for their flood-recovery efforts and said the UI shouldn't be penalized because it has followed FEMA's instructions over the past four years.

"The circumstances merited the kind of federal assistance that has been given to disasters in other parts of the country where natural disasters have also caused such tremendous damage," Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a statement. "I've urged Administrator Fugate to give fair treatment to Iowa. The inspector general has issues with the way FEMA has utilized its discretion on these projects."

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said he has spoken to FEMA Administrator William Craig Fugate and will ask him to disagree with the inspector general about funding for the UI's ongoing flood-recovery efforts.

"The inspector general's report is not about law or regulation but about a policy dispute that should not result in a withdrawal of committed FEMA funds," he said in a statement. "Should the [inspector general] prevail in this dispute, it would be wrong as a matter of policy and would require the university to repay significant already spent funds."

Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, said the government's move is "inexcusable."

"Simply put, it's inexcusable that students, our community, and eastern Iowa jobs are caught in the middle of a bureaucratic argument over policy interpretation by people in Washington, D.C.," he said in a statement. "Iowans shouldn't have the rug pulled out from us after the federal government already committed to partnering with us to recover and rebuild from the devastating floods of 2008."


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