Kelly Aday said north Alabama residents have become complacent through the years when it comes to severe weather, but that changed after the devastating tornadoes that raged across Alabama on April 27.
While the Shoals was spared the type of damage sustained by Hackleburg and Phil Campbell and the East Franklin and Mount Hope communities, Aday said it’s important to have a safe place to go when severe weather rolls into the area.
As many as 22 community safe houses will be built at various sites in Colbert County if the Federal Emergency Management Agency approves more than $1.5 million in Hazard Mitigation grant money, according to county Emergency Management Agency Director Mike Melton. County commissioners also must agree to provide matching money.
“I don’t know if anyone could be prepared for something like that, but you want to be prepared and do everything you can,” said Aday, chief of the Nitrate City Volunteer Fire Department. “It could be a matter of life and death. The community shelters could serve a large number of people if you place them in the more populated areas.”
Melton recently told county commissioners the estimated cost of the project is about $2 million and the county would have to provide about $470,000 in matching funds. Those amounts could change once the projects are sent out for bids and the county determines how much work they can provide to reduce their local match, Melton said.
He said there were certain aspects involved in the construction that could be used as “in kind” services to defray the county’s match, but the value of property cannot be counted. He said construction includes electrical wiring, plumbing and septic tanks, and field lines.
James Brumley, the county’s general fund accountant, said an important question is whether or not the county would have to provide the entire match up front or have the option of spreading it out over two or three years.
Melton told commissioners they could probably spread their share of the construction costs over two to three years, which would help the county work the cost into subsequent budgets.
Melton said the shelters will range in size from 10 by 50 feet, while others would be 10 by 24 feet, depending on the population of the surrounding community.
He said the larger shelters can hold 96 persons, but equipping them with restrooms built to Americans With Disabilities Act standards would reduce the capacity to 89 persons. The smaller shelters would hold 40 persons for the same reason, Melton said.
Melton said FEMA bases the size of the shelter on the surrounding population. If the commission wants larger shelters, they would have to pay the difference.
Melton told commissioners he wants each shelter to be equipped with a backup generator.
While they are subject to change, a list provided by the Alabama Emergency Management Agency shows one shelter in Commissioner Jimmy Gardiner’s district, three in Commissioner Rex Burleson’s district, four in Commissioner Roger Creekmore’s district, five in Commissioner Emmitt Jimmar’s district in the eastern part of Colbert, and nine in Commissioner Howard Keeton’s district in western Colbert.
There were no shelters listed in Commission Chairman Troy Woodis’ district, which primarily encompasses the city of Muscle Shoals.
Melton said he did not know when a decision will be made on the county’s request for funds.
The county has been moving forward with selecting sites and attempting to secure property for the shelters, which will not be as elaborate as shelters already in Ford City, Littleville, Leighton and Cherokee.
“It’s a considerable amount of money, but if it can be spread over a three-year time frame it’s not such a big shock to the system,” Creekmore said. “Obviously, we’re going to have to look at and evaluate what the finances look like. On the surface, if the installation is spread out over a time frame of 36 or 24 months, it’s a manageable amount of money.”
Creekmore said he views the matter as the county getting roughly $2 million in storm shelters for about $500,000.
He said numerous people have contacted him about adding more storm shelters after the April 27 tornadoes.
“As a matter of fact, I had someone in my office (Thursday) morning,” Creekmore said. “There is a lot of public interest.”
Creekmore said the county is working out agreements with landowners who are willing to donate property for the shelters, which should reduce the county’s investment.
Aday said there is property near the fire department in Nitrate City that could be used for a shelter.
“We discussed it and if they get approved, we’ll do all we can to get one built here in the community,” he said. “We have several different places here in the community where people have spoken up and are willing to donate land for the storm shelters.”
Russ Corey can be reached at 256-740-5738 or russ.corey@TimesDaily.com.