PELHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – The City of Pelham voted to reject FEMA funding for five new storm shelters during a special called meeting Monday night. The Mayor and Council decided to use buildings already in the city. Pelham city leaders first applied for the grant after April 27th, 2011.
The proposal would have cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in matching funds, and more than was originally anticipated, but the mayor says this decision is not about money.
Mayor Gary Waters said there were a number of reasons that the shelters were not the best thing for the city- including that the city could not place them where they were needed most.
“Things are different now, the technology we have, the advanced forecasting we have for severe weather has actually, we’ve actually educated the public to the point that they’re now assuming responsibility for their own safety and they’re not looking to us for shelter,” said Waters. “We’ve had two predicted severe weather events this Spring system, this Spring season, and not one Pelham resident has sought refuge or called City Hall seeking refuge.”
According to Pelham Finance Director Tom Seale: two shelters would have been at the Pelham City Park; one at the Pelham Senior Center; one at the Pelham Civic Complex and one at Fungo Holler Park.
Mayor Waters took issue with our coverage of this issue and defended the decision to reject the grant money in a heated exchange after the meeting.
“Look you’ve got to do your research. People will not get in a car and drive to a storm shelter. They won’t do it. They’re going to shelter in place,” said Waters.
So that’s why having one close to the mobile home park would be better than having one further away.
“I don’t have a piece of city property adjacent to the mobile home park that’s what I’m trying to tell you,” said Waters.
Pelham City Park is located one street down from a mobile home park on Highway 31.
Waters says city buildings are always open to someone seeking shelter, and residents know this, but the City Council President says they have been looking for ways to get the word out about the availability of potential shelters like the Pelham Police Department or Pelham Fire Station Number Two.
“That is what we, what we asked the fire chief about in the last meeting is to please make sure we figure out the right ways to communicate this out to the residents and what our opportunities are,” said Rick Hayes, Pelham City Council President.
“When you look at the police building, that downstairs section, we have a big open area downstairs which is I think it’s rated for 160 miles per hour winds. I’m not 100% sure on that, but it is, it is rated for very high quality protection,” said Hayes.
“Trying to find a place that we could put these shelters, we really ran into a major problem with the location of them and getting to these shelters we were blocking off a lot of facilities and really having a lot of issues with that, so what we really believe- it makes more sense to make available city facilities that were built and designed to be safe for residents versus trying to put something new in,” said Hayes.
We put the following question to Mayor Waters: what if a tornado dropped down in the Pelham City Park in the middle of a softball game?
“That’s not going to happen. I can tell you that’s not going to happen,” said Waters.