WASHINGTON — New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu is in Washington this week, with several meetings lined up with federal Homeland Security officials over a federal inspector general's report threatening the city's $2 billion global settlement earmarked to help New Orleans repair infrastructure damage from Hurricane Katrina.
Landrieu, who's also in the nation's capital on business as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, will meet with top leadership at the Department of Homeland Security, the parent agency for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Top on the agenda? Urging top officials in the administration of President Donald Trump to reject the central recommendation in an inspector general's report released in July that urged FEMA to take back the entire $2 billion lump-sum payment for destruction wrought by Katrina to the city's roads and underground pipes.
A federal inspector general is recommending that the Federal Emergency Management Agency tak…
The inspector general questioned whether all the damage considered in the settlement was actually caused by the devastating 2005 hurricane, pointing to evidence that the city's infrastructure was already aging, decrepit and in poor repair before levee failures sent floodwaters pouring over much of the city.
At the time, FEMA officials disagreed with that assessment, arguing that it used technical experts to come to the conclusions that underpin the payment. And city officials have noted that the law governing disaster assistance does not require detailed documentation of the pre-disaster state of the system.
About $400 to $500 million of the money has already been spent on repairs, said Zach Butterworth, federal affairs director for the city. Much of that money went to fix things like destroyed street lights and signs, infrastructure damage unquestionably caused by the storm.
Butterworth said hopes to convince new leadership at Homeland Security — Gen. John Kelly, the former secretary, is now White House chief of staff — that the settlement funding is crucial to New Orleans' future.
The $2 billion settlement represents much of the city's cash on hand as it launches work on huge backlog in repairs, estimated at $9 billion in work.