Two weeks after the Yankton County Commission expressed displeasure with the state’s handling of disaster response, the South Dakota Department of Transportation (SDDOT) is clarifying how relief funding is distributed.
The issue revolves around the Jamesville Bridge and damage that was found following an inspection after September’s flooding.
“The DOT does not believe it is flood-related, therefore, they do not want to pay for it,” Highway Superintendent Mike Sedlacek said at the Nov. 19 county meeting.
The damage was reported following an inspection in October. It had not been there during a full inspection of the bridge in 2018.
Mike Behm, SDDOT director of planning and engineering, told the Press & Dakotan that relief funds come from the federal government.
“Emergency Relief (ER) is a program through the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA),” Behm said. “It’s actually only eligible for federal-aid highways in South Dakota. That being said, not every route is eligible for emergency repairs through this program. The program in and of itself helps provide for reimbursement on a project where folks had flood damage or natural disaster damage to a transportation facility.”
He added the FHWA has the ultimate say in funding.
“There’s a 180 calendar to it, so if repairs are made within 180 days, there’s eligibility for 100% — and these are federal aid dollars — and they’re 80% for about a year and a half,” he said. “The FHWA are actually the owners of the program, so they have the ultimate say on approval on what’s eligible and ineligible. Our teams go out to the sites and review the sites, usually with local representation as well, talk about the damage that occurred and work to determine the eligibility criteria for that.”
Behm said that state crews have been out to the Jamesville Bridge and found damage that may be eligible for Emergency Relief reimbursement.
Tammy Williams, administration program manager with the SDDOT, told the Press & Dakotan that the SDDOT does believe the damage was flood-related.
“We’re just trying to figure out how that could’ve happened,” Williams said. “I think what we’ve found is one of two things — it was probably hit by large pieces of ice or the girder could’ve been hit by big trees that were going through. We’ve discussed it heavily with Federal Highway and we’re all in agreement that it will be eligible ER reimbursement to fix that bent cap back to prior to this year’s event (status).”
She said the SDDOT, Clark Engineering and county officials have kept up contact over the last couple of weeks since the last County Commission meeting.
“We’re still working through the damage review, and it’s not just this structure,” Behm said. “Obviously, this last event that came through in September created a lot of damage statewide. We’re working with our federal highway partners and trying to assure that, if there are sites eligible for relief, that we can move forward with that.”
Williams said no sites, including Jamesville Bridge, have been accepted or rejected at this time for ER.
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