VOL. 132 | NO. 109 | Thursday, June 1, 2017
Crews Move To Smaller Areas, Storm Damage Estimates Grow
By Bill Dries
Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division’s response to the Saturday storm that knocked out power to 188,000 homes and businesses will cost the utility at least $7 million.
“We will spend in excess of $7 million and it could be well in excess of $7 million,” said MLGW president Jerry Collins.
Collins commented Wednesday, May 31, at a point when power had been restored to 140,000 customers, with about 44,000 still without power.
“Now we’re into the small outages and the small outages take just as much time as the large outages,” Collins said. “But you don’t see very much fruit from your labor because you may be only restoring power to six people or 20 people … rather than 1,500 people. As we get into the smaller outages, our rate of progress will appear to be slower. But that’s not because anybody’s not working as hard as they were initially.”
MLGW crews are working double shifts along with out-of-town utility crews from Oklahoma, Ohio and North Carolina.
Collins sticks with his initial estimate that fully restoring the power will take longer than a week.
State Reps. Joe Towns and Antonio Parkinson, meanwhile, say the state Department of Human Services is taking too long to restore Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program food benefits to those on SNAP who have had food go bad in the power outage.
“There’s still a lot of suffering in our community,” Towns said, calling an initial 10-day wait by DHS “unacceptable.”
Parkinson said there was a line around a DHS building he visited.
“The workers on the inside are doing a wonderful job. They are moving between 50 and 75 people at a time,” he said. “They are treating people with great respect and dignity. I was inside and I saw that. I was inside and they didn’t know I was inside.”
He said new SNAP benefits should show up on recipient cards as early as Friday.
“People are suffering and people are complaining and rightfully so,” Parkinson said. “But we also have a duty to make sure we are all part of the solution and help our neighbor to be a little more comfortable.”
The MLGW cost estimate is just one of several tallies by local and state government.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland is asking the Memphis City Council for up to $6 million from the city’s reserve fund for cleanup from the May 27 storm.
The council will vote on the funding resolution June 6.
“Reserves are sometimes called rainy day funds,” Strickland told the budget committee Tuesday. “It’s a windy day fund.”
Half of the amount is to fund city Public Works crews picking up storm debris by the curb. The other $3 million is for citizens who can’t get their debris to the curb, “to help citizens clear debris from their property and move it to the street so it can be hauled off,” Strickland said.
“The first $3 million that we have, if the state qualifies for reimbursement, we will get 80 percent of that back,” Strickland said. The second $3 million from reserves is not reimbursable even if there is a federal disaster declaration.
Strickland also told council members the city is working on meeting the terms of a federal disaster declaration, which must hit a minimum threshold of $9.8 million in damage to publicly owned facilities across Shelby County.
Strickland said he is confident that threshold for damage can be met.
The city is also seeking to meet other federal standards for additional assistance, which include at least 100 uninsured private homes that are heavily damaged.
Memphis Fire Director Gina Sweat estimated damage to the fire department training academy in Frayser at $155,000 to $200,000 as a preliminary estimate. The neighboring Memphis Police Academy was more extensively damaged and forced the current police recruit training class to move to the University of Memphis at Millington.