February's back-to-back storms dumped enough snow on Carbon and Schuylkill counties – up to 25 inches in some places – to bring traffic to a standstill, close schools for days and keep plow drivers busy.
The costs to clear the mess piled up almost as fast as the snow fell, but although the state has asked the federal government for help, our area won't see a dime, a Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman said, who asked that her name not be used.
Carbon and Schuylkill counties and their municipalities failed to meet three criteria for federal disaster aid, said Gregory S. Showers, an Emergency Management Specialist with the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.
The criteria are: a record or near-record snowfall must occur; the costs to the county and municipalities for snow removal operations during a continuous 48-hour period and any other costs for emergency protective measures must exceed the county per capita threshold of $3.23, and the total costs of all counties meeting both criteria must exceed the state threshold of $15.9 million.
Neither Carbon, for whom the threshold was $189,930.46, nor Schuylkill, whose threshold was $485,585.28, measured up in terms of snowfall or expense, said the PEMA spokeswoman.
"It's really unfortunate there will be no disaster aid for our municipalities because I'm sure the difficult winter storms put a severe strain on their budgets," said county Commissioners Chairman William O'Gurek. "I think the federal government needs to make decisions more on how it can help the citizens of this country, and their governments, than on meeting criteria. This is a really tough economic time for all of America and I would like to see the federal government step to the plate and help its people."
Gov. Ed Rendell on March 12 asked the federal government for more than $50 million in disaster aid for the 27 counties that met or nearly met the requirements. They are Adams, Allegheney, Armstrong, Beaver, Bedford, Blair, Butler, Cambria, Chester, Cumberland, Dauphin, Delaware, Fayette, Franklin, Fulton, Greene, Huntingdon, Indiana, Juniata, Lancaster, Lebanon, Perry, Philadelphia, Somerset, Washington, Westmoreland and York.
In his letter to President Obama, Rendell cited the impact of the storms on those counties, and how the state and volunteer organizations geared up to respond.
"These two storms, combined with one at the end of the month, brought the most snowfall of any February on record in Pennsylvania, and the second-largest snowfall total of any one-month period on record" Rendell said in a press release. "The scope and timing of the storms in early February placed a nearly unparalleled burden on local and county budgets. These counties desperately need this assistance."
There is no word yet on whether or when the state would get the money.
Rendell declared a state of emergency on Feb. 6.
The state Department of Transportation released $308 million in liquid fuels payments on March 1 – about a month early – so local governments could pay the cleanup costs.
The financial impact hit home even in those communities that did not make the coveted aid list.
Many local communities are still tallying the cost. Summit Hill, for example, spent $12,962.20 to clear snow.