A plan created to safeguard Blount from potential disaster risks is on its way to FEMA after several years of work and cooperation from emergency services and city officials county-wide.
Blount County Emergency Management Agency Director Lance Coleman announced in an Aug. 23 letter to each local municipality that the Blount County Hazard Mitigation Plan had been “approved pending (local) adoption” by FEMA-Atlanta.
Whenever a presidential-declared disaster happens in a state, “FEMA will send an additional 15% in funding for hazard mitigation project grants that any county and/or municipality in that state can apply for,” the letter explained.
That 15% could be put toward making Blount communities safer based on their specific needs, but is only available if the grant is approved by FEMA and adopted by each local government.
So Coleman and members of the team who put the plan together are asking those governments for resolutions to adopt the plan.
The city of Alcoa was one of the first to do so. It adopted the plan at a Tuesday commission meeting.
The plan has already been presented to Alcoa, Friendsville and Rockford’s commissioners and will be making its way to county, Townsend and Maryville commissioners in the coming weeks.
Outlining the area’s potential susceptibility to natural hazards like flooding, hail, severe storm winds and freezing, the plan serves not only as a means to receive funds but as a general overview of each area’s history with dangerous natural or manmade conditions.
“The people I worked with on these assessments gave me the top four hazards for each jurisdiction,” Coleman explained in phone interview. “And we had to come up with two projects per hazard per jurisdiction. The good thing was, sometimes one project could satisfy multiple hazards and multiple jurisdictions.”
These projects mostly involve buildings and infrastructure and may include things like community bunkers, buried utility lines, new bridges, raised roads, retention ponds and the like, according to Coleman.
Even though the plan has finally been approved by FEMA and Blount is set to be considered for certain grants, there is no guarantee funds will come through. Nevertheless, Coleman said he has reached out to multiple agencies and departments to see what issues they might want to tackle in the near future.
Flooding this spring actually helped the county get ahead of the game, Coleman said, and the highway department has completed a lot of mitigation projects already.
But there are still needs.
“If you just take Townsend, it’s recognizing what manmade and natural disasters may happen in that area,” Townsend Volunteer Fire Chief Don Stallions said of the plan. He said if grant money could help Townsend at all, it would provide resources to stave off flooding.
“I can think of one area that we always know floods,” he said. “We always know that Cedar Creek is going to back up and the road there is going to flood ... and it cuts off the community. The hazard mitigation would be to fix that or to raise (the road) to where it doesn’t flood quite so easily.”
A city like Alcoa, by contrast, has a different set of priorities. Like the rest of the municipalities, the city put together a team to assess the area’s “hazard vulnerability” and discovered that its top three concerns were “lightning and windstorms, — both tying for first — snow/ice/winter storms second and flooding ranking third” according to notes on the resolution recommending the plan’s approval.
The plan itself shows the hazards that have caused the most damage and concern for Blount are flooding, fires, hail, freezing, strong winds and tornadoes. Each of these have caused anywhere from thousands to millions of dollars in property damage over the past decade and have even resulted in injury and death.
The team of more than 30 officials from across the county have been working on the plan since late 2016 and it has been submitted three times, Coleman said.
But now it is only waiting on the approval of a few municipalities until FEMA can begin to consider grants, which it is only doing for state and local governments and private nonprofits.
Even though it is not something the average citizen can apply for, Coleman said it’s something everyone in the county can benefit from. Whether that means safe rooms to protect people from tornadoes or bridges to mitigate flooding, it all has the potential to protect Blount Countians from the unexpected.
“It’s stuff that’s really going to make a difference in people’s lives,” Coleman said.