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Waste Watch: KCS spends thousands on outside contractor in wake of June flooding

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In the days following the June flooding which devastated a large part of southern West Virginia, the Kanawha County school system reached out to a private contractor to help it assess damage and prepare for the arrival of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The system was hit very hard by the high water. Herbert Hoover High School, Elkview Middle School and Clendenin and Bridge Elemtary Schools all sustained damage from that massive storm.

Knowing that those buildings had taken a big hit, Kanawha County Superintendent of Schools Ron Duerring approved the hiring of BASE Tactical Disaster Recovery, a company which promotes itself as a consulting service for clients following disasters.

"We wanted to make sure that we were starting off on the right foot, doing things the right way because this was going to involve millions of dollars," Duerrring said. "And that we had to make sure we covered all that so that we could go back through the rebuiding process and getting that whole Elkview area back where it needed to be."

Utilizing BASE Tactical is not an inexpensive venture. In the contract signed by Duerring on June 30th, BASE Tactical's services and fees are explained.

Charges range from $139 to $450 an hour, in addition to travel, hotel and meal costs. For that money, the company creates recovery strategies, recommendations, damage assessments and helps clients prepare documents the way FEMA requires.

"It was our concern that we would miss something because we knew that we had four schools that were affected," Duerring said. "And so what they actually did was help us set up the right sheets to start documenting all the overtime. All the extra hours how they had to do by FEMA standards. All the looking at cataloguing all the contents."

For about six weeks work, BASE Tactical billed Kanawha County Schools $244,810.22.

"The point is if you've never been faced with a catastrophe like this before you don't know exactly what to do," Duerring said. "And you need guidance. I think that's good business sense. You need guidance, you need to know what it is that you need, how do you prepare those documents as you are gaining this information."

Eyewitness News contacted FEMA to ask about the use of private contractors.

In an email response, Ricardo Zuniga with FEMA external affairs said, "FEMA does not make recommendations for contractors to assist potential applicants. FEMA Public Assistance staff provide technical assistance and support to applicants of the PA program."

Kanawha County Schools is asking FEMA to reimburse the money it spent on BASE Tactical contractors. However, there is no guaranteee FEMA will pay back the entire amount. In previous instances, FEMA has set a cap of $155 an hour, a number it called reasonable for contactor services.

If FEMA sets a similar cap in Kanawha County's case, that would leave the school system on the hook for $72,655 dollars in consulting fees.

"Given the magnitude of the project, they got us started off on the right foot," Duerring said. "Once FEMA brought their people in, because they don't come in right away, then we no longer needed them and didn't go further with that contract."

FEMA says "funds are not disbursed to the applicant until eligible repair costs are incurred and proof of payment is provided."

Clay and Nicholas County Schools also sustained flood damage. Those counties did not employ any outside contractors. Instead they worked with FEMA to navigate the federal bureaucratic maze. Recovery projects and money in both of those counties have already been approved by the Federal agency.

Duerring says even if the full $244,000 isn't paid back, he stands by the decision to hire BASE Tactical.

"We've gone through it once now so we kind of know and understand if it would happen again we probably could do this on our own." Duerring said. "But not the first time through. We wanted to make sure it's right. We owe that not only to the children but to the community of Elkview."

The Kanawha County Schools Purchasing Department says FEMA has not yet made a decision concering the reimbursement request to cover the BASE Tactical payments. The KCS Treasurer's Office says FEMA has approved federal money for several recovery projects.

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