La.’s DEQ Works to Dispose Flooded Cars; State to Share Cost

January 2, 2007

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality is trying to partner with local governments to dispose of more than 10,000 flooded vehicles collected after the 2005 hurricane season.

Still, the project will not be completed before Louisiana begins bearing at least part of the cost for storing the abandoned vehicles under an existing contract and then getting rid of them under a deal that’s pending.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency covered all of the storage costs of the junked fleet through Dec. 30. On Jan. 1, 2007, the federal share dropped to 90 percent, leaving the state with a bill of $770 per day.

The DEQ’s latest maneuvers come after the Legislature failed during its recent special session to act on a bill that would have set up a process allowing the state to make good-faith efforts to contact vehicle owners and later dispose of the junkers, in most cases by crushing them and selling the scrap metal.

That task generally falls to local governments, but the DEQ and Louisiana State Police were given the job of coordinating the collection of the abandoned vehicles after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Existing law, however, does not provide a way for the state to dispose of the personal property that it has gathered.

John Rogers, a state environmental scientist helping manage the collection and disposal process, said government attorneys are devising legal agreements with the affected parishes, which are accorded authority for demolition and disposal under state law. Effectively, Rogers said, the state will carry out the duties it assumed after the storms, but the demolition will be done in the name of the parish, thus satisfying current law.

Rogers said the department is still considering asking the Legislature to amend the law in case future disasters leave the state with a similar burden. Lawmakers are scheduled to convene in April for their regular session.

Rogers said he could not estimate how quickly the state’s costs will accumulate, because the state is still awaiting FEMA approval of an estimated $550,000 disposal contract with DRC Inc. of Mobile, Ala., the same firm that signed on to collect the vehicles.

Whenever that contract is approved, the firm can begin its work, potentially lowering the storage expense. The state is expecting to bear 10 percent of the disposal contract cost as well because the deal is not likely to be inked by the deadline for full federal funding, Rogers said.

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