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Winter storms zap city budgets. Will FEMA help with snow plowing costs?

As another mega-storm bears down on a large swath of the US, snow-encrusted cities and states scramble to cover rising costs of snow plowing. FEMA might help, but qualifying for aid isn't easy.

By Ron SchererStaff writer / January 31, 2011

A snow plow works to clear Route 1 near Princeton, N.J., during a winter storm on Jan. 27.

Mel Evans/AP


New York

Snow-battered states and cities are crying “uncle,” as in, "Uncle Sam, help me with my snow removal budget."

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Winter is not even half over, but already many cities and towns have used up the money they'd set aside to plow snow-covered roads, spread sand and salt, and remove snow berms piled up from plowing operations. With another winter storm sweeping across the nation on Tuesday and Wednesday, they will have to take from other accounts to pay for yet more plowing.

Many mayors and governors hope they can get at least some of that money back, however, by tapping the federal government, mainly the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

“Given the fiscal reality, getting some help is very important,” says Peter Boynton, commissioner of emergency management and homeland security for the state of Connecticut. “Governor [Dannel] Molloy has directed our agency to work with every town to make a thorough determination if we are eligible, and if we are eligible we are going for the aid."

Many cities and other states are no doubt following Connecticut’s example. New York City has already run through its $38 million snow-removal budget, and New Jersey has exhausted its allowance of $20 million. Small towns in Massachusetts like Tyngsborough, which spent $250,000, have also used all their snow-removal money and plan to ask for federal aid.

Washington is more than aware of the chain of snow storms that has buried the nation under white mounds. In fact, on Monday FEMA issued warnings for the latest storm system now bearing down on the Midwest.

"A storm of this size and scope needs to be taken seriously," said FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, noting that the storm could affect 100 million people. “Already this winter we've seen how snow and ice can knock out power and affect transportation.”

According to FEMA, the coming storm’s first impact in the Midwest could include heavy snow, destructive ice, tornadoes, and bitter cold. The storm will move into the Northeast on Wednesday, when it is expected to dump heavy snow in inland areas.

FEMA also said it has moved personnel to Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, and Indiana at the request of the states to help coordinate additional support, if it is needed.

What many communities really want from FEMA is money. Getting it requires a state or a community to meet two main requirements.

First, the jurisdiction asking for aid must have had a “record or near-record” snowfall within a 48-hour period. A near-record snowfall is within 10 percent of the previous record.


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