Congressman Steven Palazzo, (MS-4), Vice Chairman of the Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications, today at a hearing pressed F.E.M.A. Administrator Craig Fugate on disaster recovery funding for several South Mississippi structures damaged by Hurricane Isaac in 2012. Palazzo also hand-delivered two letters that were sent last week to NOAA and F.E.M.A. in an effort to get answers and expedite the reimbursement process.
During the exchange, Palazzo noted:
“Harrison County, the City of Gulfport, and the City of Long Beach have petitioned for disaster relief funds to rebuild and repair piers damaged by Hurricane Isaac. Discouragingly, F.E.M.A. has denied their requests because it has insisted on putting these municipalities through additional environmental impact studies - even though these same piers were subjected to environmental impact studies completed only a few years earlier and the work involves repairs on existing structures. We’re not talking about completely rebuilding anything. To me and many in South Mississippi, this is a prime example of bureaucratic red tape at its worst. Is it really necessary to repeat an environmental impact study on a structure that had a study completed only a few years earlier?”
F.E.M.A. Administrator Fugate responded:
“Congressman I would have to look into that. All I can tell you is that all the general criteria we use when you are over 50% destroyed. We have to follow the law which requires an environmental review for the investment of the federal dollars. However, we have been working in one of the directions the president has given, is to speed that process up so we are not going through concurrent loops of each federal agency that has a slice of that. So we are both trying to improve that process but again I will have to go back and look but generally when we look at something that’s over 50% not repairs and that maybe something that is triggering it but I will have to get details for you. … We have been pushing more and more to push these type of projects and move them into a concurrence where it is not required for formal review I’ll have to find out what’s triggering this on these piers though.”
Local municipalities sought to repair and rebuild damaged structures similar to work done following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Gustav in 2008. Despite the fact that these structures pre-date newer environmental standards, the N.O.A.A. and F.E.M.A. now appear to be using such standards to block reimbursement for similar work performed following Hurricane Isaac in 2012. Palazzo’s office is raising questions about numerous projects completed across the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Isaac.