State steps into emergency funding tiff

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 3, 2009

State emergency management officials have stepped in to broker how Vicksburg and Warren County will share costs for simulated evacuations from Grand Gulf Nuclear Station.

Following a conference call among Mississippi Emergency Management Agency officials, Warren County Emergency Management Director Gwen Coleman and County Administrator John Smith, the county is determining how to comply.

MEMA wants the county to give 75 percent of its $6,000 payment from Entergy Nuclear to Vicksburg to help ensure the city’s participation this year, plus 50 percent of the county’s cash balance from past years’ drills, Coleman said. A medical and decontamination drill is scheduled in March.

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The exercises are held about every two years, with reimbursements aimed at defraying costs for direct planning expenses, such as suits and supplies used by volunteer fire and sheriff’s department personnel who take part, Smith said. Officials acknowledged the money has built up in recent years, equaling about $30,000. City officials recently learned about the payments and declined to participate in the drills unless city expenses were paid. Grand Gulf is the state’s only nuclear plant. It has operated for 24 years with no off-site emergencies, but all area local governments initially signed on to train, prepare and provide resources in the event of an evacuation.

Supervisors directed Coleman and Smith to pore over budget entries and other records to determine the participation level by each county department. If paid according to the state’s recent request, the county would offer the city about $19,500 — equaling the city’s estimate in a letter last week to MEMA and Warren County to be its annual costs for sending its firefighters to refresher courses.

Mayor Laurence Leyens said last week the costs of conducting a drill to practice the local response to an emergency at the Claiborne County boiling water reactor should be the state’s responsibility. If some type of rebate of the city’s labor and overtime costs couldn’t be hammered out before the upcoming drill, Leyens said the city would opt out. 

Word of the state’s request to share with the city was met by supervisors with mixed comments.

District 2 Supervisor William Banks said MEMA is more responsive to the city than the county. “When we write them something, they never respond,” he said, referring to a letter from the county to MEMA last year asking for definitions about local coordinating authority in emergencies. The letter was prompted by the Leyens administration’s establishment in 2007 of a separate city emergency management department, one not uncommon in other municipalities in the state but usually funded by a taxing district. Leyens has said the county plan was tested during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, failed and has not been improved.

District 5 Supervisor Richard George said the amount is not significant and apportionment is fair. “It should be distributed according to involvement,” he said.

All counties are required to have comprehensive emergency management plans spelling out responses during natural disasters, chemical accidents or other emergencies. The first parts of Warren County’s comprehensive plan were accepted by supervisors in 2007, covering general definitions. Emergency support functions, or a detailed report on which local government departments respond and to what degree, have yet to be agreed upon.


Contact Danny Barrett Jr. at