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Second Appeal Letter
PA ID# 000-U03E9-00; Florida Department of Transportation
PW ID# 4877 and 5389; Sinkhole Repairs
May 15, 2012
Florida Division of Emergency Management
2555 Shumard Oak Boulevard
Tallahassee, Florida 32399-2100
Re: Second Appeal–Florida Department of Transportation, PA ID 000-U03E9-00, Sinkhole Repairs, FEMA-1545-DR-FL, Project Worksheets (PW) 4877 and 5389
Dear Mr. Koon:
This letter is in response to your letter dated August 22, 2011, which retransmitted the referenced Second Appeal on behalf of the Florida Department of Transportation (Applicant). The Applicant is appealing the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) determination that sinkhole repair costs were ineligible and the resulting de-obligation of repair costs in the amount of $352,896 because the damage was not the direct result of Hurricane Frances (FEMA-1545-DR-FL).
In September 2004, Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne (FEMA-1561-DR-FL) dropped 16-20 inches of rainfall within the Applicant’s jurisdiction. Under the Disaster Declaration for Hurricane Frances, FEMA prepared PW 4877 for the mobilization, materials and equipment necessary to repair sinkholes located partially on a county road ditch and on an adjacent privately owned parking lot. In addition, FEMA prepared PW 5389 for sinkholes located within Applicant owned retention ponds. At final review, the sinkhole repairs for both PWs were determined to be ineligible in accordance with Title 44 Code of Federal Regulations (44 CFR) §202.223 (a) (1) General Work Eligibility which states, “To be eligible for financial assistance, an item of work must be required as the result of the major disaster event.” As a result, the work associated with PW 4877 was deemed ineligible while PW 5389 was de-obligated in the amount of $352,896.
The State of Florida Division of Emergency Management (Grantee) filed the first appeal on behalf of the Applicant on December 5, 2005. The Applicant asserted that the sinkhole repair costs associated with PWs 4877 and 5389 were eligible emergency protective measures undertaken by a community before, during, and following a disaster that are necessary to eliminate or reduce an immediate threat to life, public health, or safety or to eliminate or reduce an immediate hazard that threatens significant additional damage to improved public or private property. The Regional Administrator (RA) denied the appeal on June 30, 2006, stating that the sinkhole repairs did not meet the minimum requirement for eligibility for financial assistance under 44 CFR §206.223(a)(1): “An item of work must be a result of the major disaster event”. The RA noted that sinkholes in this region of Florida are associated Karst topography, in which mildly acidic water dissolves the porous bedrock, causing underground caverns which may result in the collapse of overlying sediments into the cavities. Because this topography was in existence prior to Hurricane Frances, the RA determined that the appearance of sinkholes was inevitable, not a direct result of the disaster, and therefore not eligible for financial assistance. Further, the RA stated that the Applicant had not provided any documentation to show that the sinkholes were the result of the Hurricane.
The Applicant submitted its second appeal on November 17, 2006, which was retransmitted to FEMA on August 22, 2011. In the second appeal, the Applicant maintains that the sinkholes were a result of heavy rainfall during Hurricane Frances’ incident period and a direct result of conditions caused by the storm. The Applicant explains that while sinkholes are known to be associated with Karst landforms, the existence of these landforms does not make a sinkhole inevitable nor does it mean that these sinkholes were in existence prior to Hurricane Frances. The Applicant provided documentation with its appeal indicating evidence that rainfall in the Applicant’s jurisdiction increased dramatically during the incident period. Further, the Applicant documented an extreme increase in the number of sinkholes in the jurisdiction during the incident period, specifically when compared to the years before and immediately following after the disaster. Finally, the Applicant also provided an additional discussion of the cause of sinkholes through a geotechnical engineering firm to support the claim that the sinkholes were caused by heavy rainfall.
In Florida, the limestone bedrock throughout the State is very porous, which results in Karst landforms with underground voids and caverns. While these voids exist, they do not necessarily result in the formation of a sinkhole. However, additional factors contribute to or exacerbate these conditions which may result in sinkholes. Often, this is attributed to soil raveling, where moisture causes the upper portion of the cavity or dome to slowly erode until it collapses into the cavity and results in a sinkhole. Soil raveling is typically caused by changes in groundwater levels, including severe rainfall during hurricane season.
The evidence provided by the Applicant demonstrates that rainfall during the incident period greatly exceeded that of previous years. In August and September of 2004, the incident period, over 28 inches of rain fell on the Applicant’s jurisdiction, compared with between 8 and 14 inches in the three previous years and one year following. During the same incident period, 84 sinkholes were reported in the jurisdiction, compared with between 1 and 9 in the three previous years and two years following. Although some normal deterioration or dissolution of soluble carbonate rocks by acidic water is ultimately responsible for virtually all sinkholes found in Florida, excessive rainfall loading amounts due to Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne weakened the ground structure which resulted in the formation of sinkholes during the disaster incident period.
As the sinkholes were the result of the disaster event, the repairs are eligible for reimbursement under the Public Assistance Program. This applies to both PW 4877 which was deemed ineligible prior to an obligation of funds, and PW 5389 from which $352,896 was de-obligated.
I have reviewed the information submitted with the appeal and have determined that the Applicant’s appeal should be granted in full in the amount of $352,896 (PW 5389). In addition action should be taken to address work under PW 4877 and funded accordingly. By this letter, I am requesting that the Regional Administrator take appropriate action to implement my decision.
Please inform the Applicant of my decision. This determination is the final decision on this matter pursuant to 44 CFR §206.206, Appeals.
cc: Major P. May
FEMA Region IV