The state has sided with Livingston Parish in its appeal of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s refusal to pay more than $46 million in Hurricane Gustav cleanup costs.
That appeal and a separate $16 million appeal by the parish over cleanup of debris left by the September 2008 hurricane are both in the hands of FEMA officials in Washington, D.C., the parish’s attorney, Shelby Easterly III, said Tuesday.
Contractors for the parish “conducted widespread waterway debris removal in wooded, unimproved tracts of private property” where there was no immediate threat to adjacent improved property, FEMA’s regional office said earlier this year in a denial of the parish’s appeal for reimbursement of the work.
In a lengthy document sent to FEMA’s Washington headquarters, the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness said evidence confirms the cleanup of parish waterways “was done to remove an immediate threat of flooding.”
The parish has “produced sufficient documentation” in its appeals to establish that eligible work was done, the
appeal analysis by GOHSEP says.
In a letter accompanying the document to FEMA, Mark DeBosier, of GOHSEP, says the agency supports the parish’s appeal.
“The state of Louisiana and its local governments continue to struggle to recover from the effects of Hurricane Gustav,” said DeBosier, the deputy director of disaster recovery for GOHSEP.
“Based upon the research and the analysis enclosed,” the state deems the appeal to have merit and requests FEMA to reimburse the parish for the work.
Despite what FEMA said in response to an earlier appeal by the parish, Livingston Parish doesn’t have to demonstrate the debris removal was cost effective, the GOHSEP document said.
Likewise, “lack of procurement competition” does not make work ineligible, but only requires FEMA to determine a reasonable amount to be paid for the work, the document continues.
The state letter said the parish received conflicting opinions from FEMA.
A second FEMA team sent to Livingston Parish “seemingly ignored the prior FEMA representatives’ advices and conclusions regarding the eligibility and quantity of debris removed,” despite the fact the earlier advice was what the parish relied upon in doing the work, the GOHSEP document said.
The members of that second team arrived after the work was completed and “were not in a position to second-guess the tacit and express eligibility determinations of their FEMA predecessors,” the state document said.
The parish “sought and relied upon guidance from one group of FEMA representatives only to have a second group of FEMA representatives make contradictory determinations well after the applicant had inextricably committed itself to the costly debris removal and monitoring operations,” the GOHSEP analysis said.
The second FEMA group inspected the area nearly a year after the storm and after much of the debris had been removed, the document said.
Though neither the parish nor its contractors obtained environmental permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prior to starting the cleanup work, the parish has been working to get the needed permits or letters showing no permits were needed in some areas, the state said.
None of the waterway debris removed by Livingston Parish’s contractor in the aftermath of the 2008 hurricane is eligible for reimbursement, FEMA’s Region 6 said earlier this year in response to the parish’s appeal of an earlier refusal to pay for the work.
The next step in that $46 million appeal and a $16 million appeal on handling damaged trees must be decided by FEMA in Washington, Esterly said.
He said he doesn’t know when the agency will issue a decision.
The debris contractor, International Equipment Distributors Inc., filed suit against the parish in February, seeking about $53 million.
The company said the parish owes IED for the work whether FEMA pays for it or not.