Esky to state: We need help now

ESCANABA – Escanaba is sending a message to Lansing that the city needs help now because of costly unexpected cold weather hardships that are anticipated to escalate through the winter and into spring.

Council agreed during its regular meeting Thursday to send a resolution to Gov. Rick Snyder, state legislators, and county officials to have a “State of Emergency” declared in Escanaba because of the number of freeze ups experienced.

So far, city crews have responded to 435 water freeze ups, two water main breaks, two sewer line freeze ups, and one storm line freeze up at an extra cost to the city of nearly $123,000, said City Manager Jim O’Toole.

The city has credited about $8,000 to customers whose water pipes have been thawed and need to be “let run” so pipes don’t refreeze, he said. Many residents are letting their water run at their own expense because they don’t want their pipes to freeze, he added.

“The city of Escanaba does feel like we’re in a state of emergency,” O’Toole told council.

In order to declare a “State of Emergency,” a total of $13.7 million worth of detailed damages has to be documented and evaluated on a statewide level, explained Delta County Emergency Management Coordinator Bob Berbohm.

A municipality which is applying for the emergency assistance also needs to show it has exhausted its resources before it can receive help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, also known as FEMA, he told council.

Emergency management coordinators across the Upper Peninsula are asking that communities hang on until spring when problems are expected to be worse, he said.

“As the frost comes up, the dollar amount will go up,” Berbohm said, stressing that communities record their winter frost damages on a weekly basis so documentation is ready when the statewide damage benchmark is met.

Besides the freeze ups and busted lines which are being addressed daily, Berbohm said other frost-related issues for the region will be road damage, broken gas lines, flooding, and bridge problems.

Agriculture is also affected because farmers are having difficulty getting water into barns for livestock; planting of crops will be delayed because of an anticipated late spring, he added.

“We’ve got some serious business to watch out for in the very near future,” Berbohm said, noting he expects frost-related problems to last into May.

O’Toole said Escanaba, as well as several other communities being hit by the cold this winter, are not able to wait and cannot dispense their budgets before they need assistance.

“We need to cooperate with the county to send a message to Lansing that small communities can’t be bogged down in bureaucracy because they need help now,” said O’Toole.

City council’s resolution is requesting the county declare a “State of Emergency” because of widespread damage caused by this winter’s extreme cold weather.

During an update to council, Water/Wastewater Superintendent Jeff Lampi said city crews have been working seven days a week, sometimes as much as 19 hours a day, on the water and sewer line freeze ups.

Twice the amount of water has been used in the city compared to normal because many customers are letting their water run, he said.

“A lot of people are running on their own dime. There’s a lot of scared people out there,” said Lampi, noting the amount of ice in the water towers is also unknown.

City Engineer/Public Works Superintendent Bill Farrell said city crews have been busy plowing snow and removing snow from city streets and alleys. Though the city is in “pretty good shape” regarding snow, potholes are appearing on roads, he said.

With warmer temperatures expected in the near forecast, more potholes are going to have to be filled, Farrell told council.

“There’s going to be a lot of potholes and it’s going to take a big effort to get the roads in shape,” he said, expecting crews to be busy patching Monday and Tuesday.

To date, the public works budget has spent $104,000 more compared to the same time last year, Farrell added.

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Jenny Lancour, (906) 786-2021, ext. 143, jlancour@dailypress.net