By Johnny Kampis | Missouri Watchdog
ST. LOUIS – Lawmakers blasted the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency this week for not sending a half million dollars in tornado relief to Bridgeton, but a SEMA spokesman said the money wasn’t requested until last week.
Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and Rep. Shane Schoeller, R-Willard, chairman and vice chairman of the state’s Interim Committee on Disaster Preparedness, Response and Recovery, got on their political soapboxes Thursday after they learned in a committee meeting that Bridgeton, a St. Louis bedroom community, had received only about $300,000 of an $800,000 FEMA grant to help the city recover from the tornado that struck on Good Friday 2011.
“It was completely unacceptable to find such an enormous amount of taxpayer money had been withheld for no justifiable reason, knowing the funds had already been approved. The agency took our request seriously by acting immediately to put these much-needed taxpayer dollars into the hands of the City of Bridgeton,” Schoeller said in a statement.
“The folks in Bridgeton have been extra patient especially given the fact that our friends in Jefferson City at SEMA have had this FEMA reimbursement money that’s payable to Bridgeton for nine, going on 10, months,” Kinder told St. Louis Public Radio.
In separate news releases, Schoeller and Kinder took credit for the quick response, but SEMA spokesman Mike O’Connell told Missouri Watchdog Friday that the money was already in route.
Bridgeton Public Works Director Robert Gunn testified to the committee in St. Louis on Wednesday that the city hadn’t received all of the promised FEMA funds, and the committee voted to encourage Gov. Jay Nixon to ensure their release.
But O’Connell said Bridgeton had requested the money just a week earlier.
Bridgeton submitted two invoices totaling $306,000 on July 25 for reimbursements, which it should receive in a matter of days, O’Connell said.
He said FEMA puts the money in an account not accessible by his agency until intended grant recipients send in receipts for their expenses.
“We can only disperse this money from this secure account when the invoices come in, and we make sure all the documentation is there,” O’Connell said.
“There hadn’t been any complaints.”
Gunn did not return a call from Missouri Watchdog on Friday.
O’Connell said Bridgeton still is working to complete some smaller projects involving demolition and debris removal, and is due another $200,000 from FEMA. He said some of the previously reimbursed expenses in Bridgeton include infrastructure improvements and the cost of emergency shelters.
An EF4 tornado struck St. Louis County on Apr. 22, 2011, destroying about 750 homes, with Bridgeton taking the brunt of the storm. No one was seriously injured or killed.
Eli Yokely of Missouri News Horizon contributed to this report.