Mary Tutwiler

Feds will pick up underwater debris from Rita but not Ike

by Mary Tutwiler

Underwater debris from 2005 hurricanes Katrina and Rita still hunkers, three years later, beneath the bayous of southwest Louisiana, snagging nets and threatening navigation. In September, Hurricane Ike swept another round of wreckage — everything from 55 gallon drums to washers, dryers and boats into waterways. “Nothing has been removed,” says Linda Duhon, assistant administrator to the Vermilion Parish Police Jury.

Parishes in conjunction with the Coast Guard have been surveying the 2005 debris, and before Gustav and Ike, a marine debris removal plan was in place. FEMA is slated to pay for the removal directly. But now the state has been informed that the remains from hurricanes Gustav and Ike will not be included in that project, that trash associated with Gustav and Ike must be removed separately, and that the parishes must then apply to FEMA for reimbursement. “How do you tell the difference between a Katrina refrigerator and an Ike refrigerator?” asks Duhon.

Local officials in coastal parishes are flummoxed, and last week the Louisiana Recovery Authority sent a letter to FEMA, arguing that it is a waste of time and money to have to do another survey rather than picking up the trash in one pass. LRA Executive Director Paul Rainwater wrote that not consolidating the clean up “will result in additional costs to taxpayers for duplicate mobilization and administration; two programs removing the same kinds of debris, in the same locations, at the same time is clearly inefficient and will generate additional burdens on the state and parish administrators working alongside the Coast Guard.”

FEMA spokesman Bob Josephson responds that the surveys had already pinpointed Katrina/Rita related debris and that the Coast Guard has already issued specific requests for proposals for contracts to clean up waterways. “To go back and resurvey and change the specifics of the project would require the Coast Guard to rebid, and that would set the process back even further,” he says. Josephson suggests it would be cheaper for the parishes to pick up Gustav and Ike debris on their own. “The quickest and most efficient way would be to have the local governments put their own contract out and remove the debris quickly and have FEMA reimburse them through the public assistance program.” Josephson also says that the state has not made an official request to consolidate the debris pick up, and thus is not in line for direct federal funding.