Slidell has had a long wait for money to finish repairing the damage Hurricane Katrina caused in 2005 to its streets and the sewer and drainage lines under them, but the city soon will get another $60 million from FEMA — a payment that Mike Womack, director of FEMA’s Louisiana Recovery Office, said is the last large grant the agency will make in the state for Katrina damage.
Womack made the announcement at a Slidell City Council meeting Tuesday — an event that drew St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister to the meeting.
Womack jokingly told Brister it’s too late to ask for any additional money.
It had seemed too late in 2010 when Slidell Mayor Freddy Drennan took office and began pressing FEMA to address hidden storm damage.
He said water that inundated streets and heavy trucks that followed had damaged sewer lines, water lines and drainage under the streets, causing sinkholes and other problems.
Slidell hired Stuart Consulting Group to help make its case for more federal aid, and FEMA eventually provided another $15 million. The city began work on the first project funded with that money early this year.
But the city’s persistence now has resulted in a much bigger payoff: the additional $60 million that Womack said will arrive in about two months.
Councilman Jay Newcomb said the City Council wondered at the time whether spending the money to hire a consulting firm was a gamble worth taking. He praised Stuart Consulting for the results.
FEMA made 2013 the deadline for governments to come forward with any final claims of damage from Katrina, Womack said. “This is quite literally the last big project,” he said, adding that New Orleans has received money for similar work.
FEMA money also enabled Slidell to rebuild its government buildings — City Hall, two administrative buildings and the municipal auditorium — as well as a senior center and the Rufus Viner Center, city officials pointed out.
“I’d hate to think we’d still be in those cotton-picking trailers trying to run the city,” Drennan said, referring to temporary buildings that housed city offices for years after the storm.
“We’ve changed the way we feel about FEMA now as opposed to 11 years ago,” Councilman Bill Borchert said. “It’s good to be able to thank them instead of cussing them.”
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