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FEMA denies West, Texas, bid for more disaster aid

By Karen Brooks

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - The federal government's disaster agency rejected a request for aid to replace infrastructure destroyed near West, Texas, by an April fertilizer plant explosion that killed 14 people, Texas Governor Rick Perry's office said on Wednesday.

President Barack Obama issued an emergency declaration for the area and the state after the April 17 explosion, releasing funds for individuals, cleanup of the site and emergency responders.

But in a June 10 letter to Perry, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said the state of Texas and local governments could provide the additional money needed to rebuild public infrastructure.

Additional funds were being sought to rebuild roads, water systems and other public property damaged in the blast. Local officials said costs are approaching $100 million for city and school repairs.

A spokesman for Perry said in a statement that the governor was "very disappointed" that the town of West would not get "the assistance they need, qualify for, and deserve."

"This explosion has impacted everyone in West in some way, and we are very disappointed that the administration is denying the people of West this important assistance," Perry's spokesman, Josh Havens, said.

The rejection is the latest in a host of disputes between the Republican-led Texas state government and Obama's Democratic administration, including FEMA's denial of a Texas request for disaster assistance for the devastating 2011 drought and wildfires.

Other disputes have included the administration's blocking of federal funds for a Texas health program for poor women after the state passed a law barring Planned Parenthood, a provider of abortions, from participating in the program. In addition, the U.S. Justice Department last year went to court to block a Texas law requiring identification for voting, saying it discriminated against minority voters.

Local officials in McLennan County, which includes the town of West, said they were shocked and angered by the decision and plan to appeal.

State Representative Kyle Kacal, whose district includes West, said the city, which has a $2 million annual budget, will not be able to shoulder the costs of repair, including damages to infrastructure topping $17 million and more than $80 million for destruction to property and infrastructure operated by the local school district.

FEMA, in its letter denying the request for aid, said it had "determined that the remaining cost for permanent work is within the capabilities of the state and affected local governments."

(Reporting By Karen Brooks; Editing by Greg McCune and Leslie Adler)

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