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FEMA to assist county

By By MARY-ALLISON LANCASTER Managing editor
Mirroring neighboring Florida counties, Escambia County, Ala., is looking to acquire long-term recovery assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which county officials believe will become beneficial in the future.
According to a news release from the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, FEMA has agreed to send special teams to Baldwin and Escambia counties to help local officials develop long-term recovery plans in response to Hurricane Ivan.
Gov. Bob Riley requested the assistance shortly after Hurricane Ivan hit the area last September.
However, Larry White, chairman of the Escambia County Commission said that the program wasn't even in existence and wasn't eligible until November 2004. White added that Escambia County had found out about the program through connections in neighboring counties in Florida, and local officials made a request on Jan. 5.
Concerns, Jennings said, such as the traffic bottleneck that occurs in Brewton when there is an evacuation in effect. The thoroughfares will be a big priority for the future mitigation and improvement plans.
Sheriff Grover Smith told County Commissioners last week that more than 1 million people pass through the county during a major disaster. And, according to Smith, "no other (Alabama) county has this issue."
The county assistance would also provide a permanent generator for the County Courthouse and the Sheriff's department.
According to state officials, the recovery teams will work with the state and federal agencies to help develop recovery plans that address economic development, housing, public facilities and other needs.
FEMA will help the counties develop an initial assessment of needs, and then identify and coordinate federal programs and resources that could assist with planning and reconstruction, a news release said.
Jennings said that individual grants have been sent out, but none have been awarded yet and it "could be awhile" before the county knows how much money has been awarded for the individual projects officials say need to be improved.
FEMA officials will be in the area in mid-June to work with state officials and community leaders on recovery plans. The "town hall" style workshop will also be open to the public. The two-day meeting will allow agencies such as the Department of Transportation, to provide input and identify high-priority projects while crafting a strategic recovery plan.
Jennings said the meetings will not consider private concerns and is only public-related. For instance, he said, individuals with an oak tree down in the yard wanting to know what the county is going to do about removing it are not necessary concerns for these particular meetings.
The first two meetings for Escambia County, Ala. will be held June 28 from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. and June 29 from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. at the Little Escambia Baptist Church in Flomaton.