Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday formally appealed the denial of a federal disaster declaration for West, arguing that much of the community’s tax base was blown away in the April 17 fertilizer explosion along with more than $35 million in public-sector damage.
“The scope of damage caused by April’s explosion has devastated this small community, and further inaction by the Obama administration to deny additional federal aid is simply unacceptable,” Perry said in a news release. “On behalf of the people of West and McLennan County, I am appealing the president’s decision in order to get this community assistance they qualify for, deserve and need to get back on their feet and on the road to recovery.”
FEMA and the White House on June 10 denied the disaster declaration, which would have given the city of West and West Independent School District about $12 million to repair roads and utilities and rebuild shattered school buildings.
An earlier presidential emergency declaration enabled federal funding for debris removal, emergency response and short-term school costs, with an estimated federal contribution of about $16.6 million.
The new appeal letter stresses that West city and school district lost an estimated $40 million in tax base, a blow to rebuilding efforts. The letter says the uninsured public loss in West was at least $35 million, which would qualify it for aid under FEMA’s guidelines, but the letter describes that as a conservative figure.
West ISD needs $80 million to $100 million to rebuild its schools, but its insurer is offering to pay only $25 million of the district’s $60 million insurance policy, according to the letter.
In addition, Moody’s recently has downgraded the credit rating of the school district and city because of tax base losses, so rebuilding the schools will be harder to finance, the letter says.
“The district continues to work with its insurance provider but anticipates it will not cover enough of the costs required to rebuild,” the letter says.
West Mayor Tommy Muska contributed information to the appeal, but said he’s not counting on the money.
“I don’t have a lot of hope,” he said. “I think there’s way too much politics involved in this, but unfortunately, that’s the world we’re living in. I thought what we sent them before was proof enough we needed help. I don’t know what else to do but to beg them, implore them.”
FEMA officials have declined to give specific reasons why the original request was denied, but they have said that the state did not prove it was incapable of providing the response itself.
The Legislature appropriated $15 million to aid West and Bastrop, which was ravaged by fire in 2011, but the governor’s office has not yet announced how that money will be split.
State Rep. Kyle Kacal, R-Bryan, a sponsor of the legislation for West aid, said he expects West will get about $10 million, most of which would go to the city of West for infrastructure repair.
“We’ve got to get water and infrastructure built so people will have the confidence for people to rebuild and get back in their homes,” he said. “If we don’t have water, people aren’t moving back.”
Muska said the city already is working on Plan B, moving forward with bids for waterline repair, funded by the state aid. In addition, the city is seeking about $4 million in forgivable loans from the Texas Water Development Board for sewer infrastructure.