The assembled officials made their way through waist-high grass and small swarms of blackflies to the first of the debris fields on the list. Piles of flood detritus the size of cars, made up mostly of tree limbs and broken pieces of lumber — but, in some places, entire structures — dotted the landscape within the wide bend in the Ausable River.
It’s Douglas’s assertion that the next time the waters mass in flood-prone Jay, these debris piles will be washed downstream and could damage or destroy the Jay Covered Bridge or the Emergency Services Memorial Bridge, 3 1/2 miles downstream.
This possibility, he says, constitutes a public-safety threat. He also pointed out that millions of dollars of federal and state money has been spent on locating and constructing these bridges over the past 20 years.
But Parr had a different take on the situation.
In order to qualify under FEMA’s guidelines, the debris must be either on “improved land” or pose a safety threat in the event of a flood condition typical over a five-year period.
“I don’t see this as being eligible,” he said, standing at the foot of one of the piles. “In no way would a five-year event take those bridges out. It’s not a threat to anyone. A five-year event is not going to pick this up.”
Douglas says FEMA has made exceptions for other towns throughout the country in the past and should make an exception here as well.
NOT IMPROVED LAND
The debris piles, Douglas said, were placed by the federal government in the first place.
“FEMA sent the EPA here to remove hazardous materials from flooded areas on private property, and piles of debris were sifted through and placed into bigger piles, and the gas tanks and propane tanks were removed,” he said.