Mary Tutwiler

FEMA responds to state's allegations

by Mary Tutwiler

Last week, Paul Rainwater, executive director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority fired off a letter to FEMA Administrator R. David Paulison after attempting for weeks to get the federal agency to send temporary housing to residents of coastal parishes. FEMA has responded to the state, precisely laying out what the agency can and cannot do, and has detailed what has been provided to those whose homes were damaged or lost in Hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

In Cameron Parish, the eye of the state’s complaint, FEMA has, to date, provided $6,237,460 in grants for home repair, given 749 households rental assistance and placed 144 families in hotels. The sticking point is sending “park model travel trailers” (not the travel trailers which had formaldehyde contamination) to provide temporary housing on private property in low lying Cameron Parish. The LRA wants homeowners who live and work in coastal Cameron to be able to put FEMA mobile homes at their homesites. Whether FEMA wants to satisfy the state or not is not the issue. By law, they cannot.

According to FEMA public affairs lead Manuel Broussard,  “Executive Order 11988 (Floodplain Management), as implemented at 44 Code of Federal Regulation Part 9, FEMA is not permitted to place federal assets in a V Zone or Coastal High Hazard Areas (V, V1-V30, or VE zones).  Placing units in these high risk areas will jeopardize the health and safety of families residing in these temporary homes and send a false sense of safety.” Broussard, who is from Vermilion Parish and well acquainted with the people and terrain of coastal Louisiana says the agency is working hard trying to find housing solutions for people impacted by the storms. “We will maximize the placement of temporary housing units in non – V zones within Cameron Parish. We also plan to place families in temporary housing units in commercials sites outside of the V zone.”

However, Rainwater argues that FEMA is making decisions on flood zones using brand new Digital Flood Insurance Rate Maps, which have not yet been published, nor has the parish had time to appeal them. Instead he requests that FEMA use the parish’s already adopted Advisory Base Flood Elevation requirements, which are currently in use in Cameron Parish.

The impasse, according to Rainwater, is that FEMA is being unreasonable in expecting the parish to adopt a new code that has not been analyzed. He says forcing vital oil and gas and seafood industry workers to commute long distances is not conducive to helping Louisiana recover from the storms.