BLACK HAWK, S.D. (AP) — Several South Dakota residents who evacuated from their homes after a sinkhole collapsed, exposing an abandoned mine, in April are not eligible to receive federal aid, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
FEMA told Sen. Mike Rounds in a June 12 letter that the agency had discussions about whether any of its programs can assist Meade County residents, adding that “FEMA, unfortunately, will not be a source of assistance.”
The gypsum mine that emerged April 27 displaced 12 families in a Black Hawk neighborhood after breaking water and sewer lines, the Rapid City Journal reported.
“Unresolved issues regarding whether this is a natural event, the likelihood of negligence and the duplication of federal benefits” make the community ineligible at this time for the specific Hazard Mitigation Grant Program that Meade County had planned on applying to, the letter said.
The program would have paid homeowners 75% of the value of their homes before the sink hole appeared.
The county had decided earlier this month to not apply for the grant after more than 117 evacuated and current residents filed a $75.5 million lawsuit against the county, state and others. A letter from Sen. Rounds said that “FEMA is prohibited from considering or awarding federal resources until the lawsuit concludes.”
Attorney John Fitzgerald, who’s representing the plaintiffs, told the newspaper that he excluded the state and county commissioners from the lawsuit so “as not to conflict their efforts in providing assistance.”
But the community is still ineligible for funds because the sinkhole may have occurred due to negligence, which is what the families are claiming in the lawsuit, according to the letter.
FEMA also mentioned that aid can't be provided if there may be duplicate funding from insurance or money awarded during a lawsuit.