Local Businesses Make Impact With Local Disasters

May 15, 2002
| By Katy Rent |
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OTTAWA COUNTY – Areas businesses have long been contributing to the community as a way to enrich their local standing. This tradition has recently become stronger with Ottawa County’s Project Impact project (OCPI).

In the fall of 1998, Ottawa County was invited by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to participate in Project Impact: Building a Disaster Resistant Community. The program is administered locally by Ottawa County through the Planning and Grants Department.

Ottawa County was selected as a Project Impact community because of its susceptibility to severe weather events such as ice, high winds and flooding, and its past efforts to reduce impact of both natural and technical hazards.

In seeing the importance of this project numerous business and nonprofit leaders pledged to work together to make Ottawa County a disaster resistant community.

Behind the OCPI is Natalie Kissel, Project Impact coordinator and planning and grants specialist, and plans to create a disaster resistant community out of Ottawa County by making many changes to the area.

Improvements and changes are planned for the area such as the installation of dry fire hydrants, the development of floodplain boundary maps, upgrades to the existing emergency warning siren system, the development of floodplain and high risk erosion area zoning ordinances, educational seminars and public service announcements.

The total cost for the OCPI will be $503,134, with over $300,000 coming in Federal grants, just under $117,000 from local and public contributions and a little over $82,000 from in kind services.

Some of the area businesses that contributed to area improvements were Ameritech, Huntington National Bank, Macatawa Area Community Media Center, Michigan State University Extension – Ottawa County, WOOD TV 8 and Timberline RC & D.

These businesses made monetary as well as service contributions to assist in making Ottawa County disaster resistant. One business that sees the importance in the project is the Macatawa Area Media Center (MacMedia).

Chris Gould, executive director said, “We are going to be there for support. We see the value of this project and want to do what we can to help. It will basically be exposure to let the community know what is going on with the project and gives various updates.”

MacMedia will also run meeting notices and updates on the message board as well as invite key players in the project to appear on MacTel Magazine, the station’s own production.

“We would also encourage other supporters and those involved with the project to be trained on the equipment and produce their own show whether it be covering meetings or giving updates,” Gould added.

Gould also said it is not necessarily for good community standing or monetary gain but because that is what the organization is there for. “We want to serve as a vehicle for expression for the entire community and this is something we feel is important to the community,” she said.

Huntington National Bank is another area business that choose to support and become involved in Project impact. Chris Piper, assistant vice president, community service division, said she and Huntington are glad to support such an import community-effort project.

“We have had a product in place for awhile in other areas where disasters were more prevalent,” Piper added. “Based on that we were willing to assist with this project in the West Michigan area and we will be helping in many different ways.”

Piper and Huntington National Bank will assist with the skills they know best. People who have had been involved in a disaster, will be eligible for an equity loan with a reduced rate of 25 percent lower than current rates. The customer will also receive a six month grace period in which to pay the loan back.

“This gives the people a chance to get back into a house, get back to work and some time to start earning some money before they have to begin to pay us back,” said Piper.

Another way Huntington will assist in the project is by using its extensive branch network and community service bulletin boards to post notices for the public. The bank also has an extensive employee base, which can be used as a volunteer group to assist in disaster relief situations.

Finally, the bank has also agreed to use its facilities as an additional base location for FEMA. “We have a great location on 16th St. here in Holland that it would be a nice central location,” said Piper.

Along with Gould, Piper and other area partners signed a memorandum of understanding stating the intentions of the project and aligning the parties’ strong abiding and mutual interest to reduce losses from future disasters. The memorandum stated goals and objectives for the project as well as proposed actions.

By signing the memorandum, partners agreed to “strive to create sustainable communities that are resistant to the human and economic costs of disaster; recognize that conditions of vulnerability exist within Ottawa County to sever winter weather, flooding, windstorms, tornadoes, wildfires, shoreline erosion and other natural hazard events; recognize that the consequences arising from these hazards include physical damage to public and private property, dangers to human lives, and economic costs; and to agree to promote personal responsibility for disaster preparedness.” These, among other statements of intent, make up the memorandum of understanding.

Ameritech donated $29,000 in the form of in kind services by providing OCPI and emergency preparedness information in local telephone books. The American Red Cross was part of a $1,000 donation made to the OCPI to assist in distributing hazard preparation/mitigation information.

Local units of government and local businesses and industries made monetary contributions of just over $53,000 to help those without flood insurance, help the development of floodplain overlay, funding the Ottawa County Drain Commission Rose Relief Drain Project and purchasing equipment to enhance the tornado siren system.

The local fire departments were also part of a monetary donation of nearly $25,000 and an in-kind service donation of $49,500 to install dry fire hydrants in the county. Finally the drainage district made a monetary donation of $35,000 to assist with safety improvements to Timmer Dam in Zeeland.

There are no specific funded projects for thunderstorm hazards, drought, earthquakes and public health emergencies.

The project had its kick-off celebration, mid-December and is now underway.

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