NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- When disaster strikes and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) arrives on the scene to help, a key component of the recovery mission is the Public Assistance (PA) program. PA provides grant money to help local, state and tribal governments – and some non-profits – repair or rebuild public facilities and infrastructure.
“FEMA is still here and will be until the job is done,” said Federal Coordinating Officer Gracia Szczech. “Helping fund the rebuilding of infrastructure is one of many ways we're supporting the state and local governments across Tennessee in the recovery effort.”
Public Assistance projects with a total cost of $63,200 or more – known as large projects – attract more attention and news coverage. Those with a total cost of less than $63,200 – known as small projects – are sometimes taken for granted. To date, nearly 1,100 applications have been approved by FEMA for PA funding in Tennessee – more than 95 percent of those are for small projects.
“Small projects are a big part of the rebuilding process taking place across the state,” said James Bassham, director of the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA). “Every rebuilding project, large or small, helps Tennessee move forward.”
Eddie Cook, road superintendant for Hickman County, understands the importance of small projects.
“Repairing the roads and bridges connecting our communities here was vital immediately following the floods,” Cook said. “A lot of our rural roads run along creek beds and streams. We had holes in the roads anywhere from 5 to 12 feet deep in many places.”
The washed-out roads and bridges left many families stranded with no electricity, water or phone service. Some elderly and sick homebound residents were cut off from receiving food, medicine and emergency services. Fortunately, flood survivors stepped up to help one another.
“The good people of Hickman County helped get to them,” Cook said. “Using 4-wheelers, tractors, anything that could get to some of these houses, they really stepped up to bring food, medicine and other help to those who needed it. It was a team effort throughout the county.”
More than three months later, a great deal of hard work and sweat has gone into repairing those roads. In the beginning, local contractors and farmers took the initiative by clearing debris from roadways around their own homes. Today, the county road department has 42 employees and five contractors – with another 40 people working for them – carrying on those efforts. While most of the roads are now navigable, more work is left as crews continue removing debris and filling holes.
“It's moving along at a pretty fast clip,” Cook said. “We have a good team here and a good relationship with TEMA and FEMA.”