UPDATE: Nixon announces Missouri will pay for debris cleanup in Joplin

Monday, August 1, 2011 | 5:29 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said Monday that the state will pay Joplin's share of a multi-million tab for cleaning up rubble on residential property after a devastating tornado tore through the city on May 22.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is paying 90 percent — instead of its normal 75 percent — of the cost of debris cleanup in some of the hardest hit areas as part of a special offer that ends on Sunday. Nixon said the state will pay the remaining 10 percent of the cost, sparing Joplin the extra financial burden at a time when the tornado has already taken a hit on local tax revenues.

The exact amount of the state's share was unclear Monday; a Nixon spokesman said it was still being calculated by federal officials.

The tornado killed 160 people and damaged or destroyed about 8,000 homes and businesses in the Joplin area.

The Army Corps of Engineers is coordinating the debris cleanup of streets and residential properties where the owners have granted permission for contractors to come on their property or where the city has declared a health nuisance, said Mark Haviland, a corps spokesman in Joplin. Commercial property owners must arrange their own debris removal, and some residential property owners have also used other debris haulers.

As of the end of July, government contractors had cleared 1,281 of the 1,485 residential lots (about 86 percent) in the area eligible for the expedited debris removal program and had removed 1.4 million cubic yards of debris out of an estimated total of 1.5 million cubic yards, Haviland said.

Although Nixon and Missouri's two U.S. senators have asked for an extension of the enhanced federal payment rate for debris removal, Haviland said corps officials are confident the remaining rubble in the expedited removal zone can be cleared within the week.

Nixon traveled to Joplin on Monday to announce the state's pledge to cover debris cleanup. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius also came to Joplin on Monday to meet with administrators and doctors from St. John's Regional Medical Center. Sebelius was highlighting the fact that the hospital had recently converted from paper to electronic medical records before getting slammed by the tornado — a move which she said may have saved lives by allowing injured tornado victims to more quickly receive treatment at other hospitals.

While in Joplin, Nixon said that he wants the Missouri Department of Revenue and the State Tax Commission to study the tornado's effect on property and sales tax revenues for cities, counties, schools, fire departments, water districts and other local public entities. He said the study will analyze the potential impact on services provided by those entities.

Nixon already has pledged $150 million of state aid for disaster relief and recovery efforts, the largest chunk of which is likely to go to Joplin. But the state may also have costs from flooding along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers and from tornadoes in St. Louis and Sedalia. The governor has said disaster-related issues will be part of the special legislative session he intends to call for September.

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