ATLANTA -- Officials in Macon, Ga., the largest city to suffer major damage as a result of flooding in the Southeast, said yesterday that the dollar value of lost infrastructure could exceed $7 million.
But Daniel Thompson, Macon's finance director, said he believed that the worst was over for the city of 117,000, which is located 100 miles southeast of Atlanta, in the central part of the state.
"If the flooding went on for some time, it would be real tough to cope," Thompson said, "but right now it looks like we're going to weather the storm."
Statewide, although information on the dollar amount of damage is still very sketchy, a preliminary picture of total damage is beginning to emerge that indicates the cost of Georgia's worst natural disaster could exceed $400 million.
Sen. Paul Coverdell, R-Ga., indicated on Monday that damage estimates could exceed $400 million.
According to agriculture commissioner Tommy Irwin, crop damage to an estimated 300,000 acres could mean a loss of $100 million to farmers. Another state official, who declined to be identified, said that damage to public infrastructure -- including roads, bridges, and utilities -- in the 31-county disaster area has reached $110 million.
Damage has been particularly pronounced for peanuts, peaches, cotton, tobacco, and corn. In June, the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast a 165-million-pound peach season. However, 25% of the peach crop had not been harvested when Tropical Storm Alberto hit last week.
Thompson said that Macon's largest hurdle now is the restoration of the water supply system, which was disrupted last Wednesday following the submersion of the city's main water treatment facility.
Now that the overflow from the Ocmulgee River is beginning to recede, Thompson said, the city has begun cleaning and repairing the water system and expects to begin pumping water through city pipes next Monday. But Macon's water will probably not be drinkable until the beginning of August, Thompson said.
The cost of overtime and repairing or replacing damaged pumps and water purification equipment at the 33-million-gallon facility will be about $5 million, Thompson said.
The city could also face about $1 million in expenses to repair its main landfill facility, he said.
In addition, Thompson said, a number of bridges, sections of roadway, and earthen dam on the Ocmulgee River suffered damage.
Another concern, he said, is Macon's storm drainage system, which the city had already been planning to renovate. About $1 million may need to be spent to restore the system following the floods, he said.
Thompson said the city is in good shape financially to deal with the crisis. Macon maintains a $2.4 million undesignated general fund surplus, and has about $4.1 million of working capital set aside, he said.
Further, the Macon Water Authority's sale of $12.4 million of debt in February to upgrade its water plant will help provide funds for repairs, Thompson said. At the time, the authority also sold $15.1 million of revenue refunding bonds to refinance existing debt.
Thompson said the city expects to get "substantial" reimbursement for damages from both the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency. Local officials in the state say that they are hoping for 75% reimbursement from the federal agency, with the Georgia agency splitting the remainder, leaving out-of-pocket costs of 12.5% of the total.
"Our goal is not to have to borrow at all" to cover flood losses, Thompson said.
Thompson said he could not estimate the overall economic impact of the flooding, but he noted that many local factories, stores, and offices remain closed, with the lack of water "paralyzing" business activity.
The city is "very concerned" about the water stoppage and is working with the National Guard and neighboring localities to make drinking water available to its residents, Thompson said.
David Lucas, a limited partner in municipal finance in J.C. Bradford & Co., which underwrote the water revenue bonds in February, said yesterday that the firm's Macon office has been able to remain open despite the water supply problems.
Lucas said that traders at his firm have not noticed any distress selling of local government debt in Georgia following the flood.