Fair apparently unable to apply for FEMA help

PARKERSBURG – The West Virginia Interstate Fair and Exposition sustained close to $400,000 in property damage during last year’s storms and was originally led to believe it was eligible for federal assistance as long it applied under the county commission’s sponsorship.

Now county and fair officials have been informed the fair is not eligible for the FEMA funding.

Meeting with fair officials Mike and Angie Zoller and with Greg Myers, public assistance officer from West Virginia for FEMA, on a conference call, Mike Zoller told the commissioners the fair, which is a nonprofit entity, was informed by the West Virginia Board of Risk Management it was not covered for destruction/damage to certain non-permanent structures or services, including its ticket booths, entertainment trailer and some electrical services.

“I went to all the meetings FEMA held and met with FEMA officials,” Mike Zoller said.

The fair ended up applying for some of the uninsured loss of $113,000 from FEMA.

“Some of the trailers were literally picked up and thrown through the air, roofs were torn up, we were picking up metal three-fourths mile away,” Angie Zoller said.

“The FEMA representatives went through everything, we signed off, they signed off and we were told we were not eligible unless we ran the application under the county, so that’s what we did,” Mike Zoller said.

Fair officials said they received a FEMA check for $3,772 for cleanup that covered clean-up workers, landfill fees and related expenses.

“The county does not own the fairgrounds, it does not maintain the fairgrounds and was not using the fairgrounds so it is not eligible,” Myers said.

“That’s the first time we’ve heard that criteria; it was never suggested to us. It was never mentioned when we applied and the FEMA representative signed off on everything,” said Angie Zoller.

“Unless the county is responsible for this entity, that can’t happen,” Myers said, noting the first $3,000 check had been sent out, but FEMA held a second check. He told the officials a denial letter was sent out in the fall. Fair and county officials said no one saw any denial letter.

“To be eligible as a private, nonprofit, you would have to provide an essential government service,” Myers said.

County officials pointed out the fairgrounds is listed as the housing facility for animals in the event of a disaster and is part of the disaster preparedness plan.

Fair officials said they were told to use the county as the applying agency by the FEMA officials themselves.

“You weren’t eligible for anything. It’s something someone at FEMA did and they should not have done it. The county is eligible, but not for this project,” Myers said.

Prosecutor Jason Wharton asked about FEMA’s ability to re-examine the application if the fair states it is part of the disaster preparedness plan.

“There is an appeals process. You need to write a letter to me. I can’t guarantee it will make anything any better,” Myers said, noting it will take 90 days to get the appeal reviewed, if it isn’t too late to file at all.

County officials questioned why, if the claim had been denied in the fall, was a check for the $3,772 sent in January.

“We would like to see a copy of that denial. I wouldn’t think checks would have been sent out if the claim was denied,” Commissioner Blair Couch asked.

“This is a good organization. They don’t have the funds to make these repairs. Whatever you can do we would appreciate it,” commission President Wayne Dunn said.

“So you’re denying their request, are you asking for the $3,000 to be returned? If we do nothing, will this just go away?” Commissioner Steve Gainer asked.

The commissioners said they would withdraw as the sponsor for the application and return the funds.

Fair officials said an appeal will be filed.