Feds Extend Katrina-Affected Demolition Deadline for New Orleans

February 25, 2008

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has extended by six months the deadline under which it would pay for the demolition of hurricane-damaged buildings deemed immediate health and safety threats in the New Orleans region.

New Orleans, whose process of making health and safety declarations have been criticized by activists and some residents who claim their properties shouldn’t be listed, was among those that had faced a Feb. 29 deadline. FEMA decided this week to extend the deadline to Aug. 29, the three-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

It was granted “due to the number of outstanding demolitions in each parish and the active efforts of the parishes to complete the demolitions,” FEMA spokesman Andrew Thomas said in an e-mail.

The extension applies to the city and Jefferson, Plaquemines, St. Bernard and St. Tammany parishes. All had asked for more time, according to FEMA.

It wasn’t immediately clear how many properties still had to be razed in New Orleans; in October, after the Army Corps of Engineers ended its mission demolishing properties identified by the city and willing property owners, the city said it was taking bids to demolish more than 1,800 storm-damaged structures.

The corps razed more than 4,200 properties before its demolition responsibilities shifted to the city in September.

The City Council passed two measures related to derelict properties, including one shaking up the committee that reviews demolition requests, requiring it, among other things, to notify property owners of pending demolition by mail and laying out a list of criterion against which to weigh a demolition request, The Times-Picayune reported.

Thomas said FEMA will reimburse the city for demolition costs that meet eligibility requirements, including that they’re “predominantly storm-damaged structures that pose an immediate threat to public health and safety.”

More than $50 million has been set aside for demolitions in New Orleans since the corps’ work ended, he said, adding it’s too early to estimate the final costs.

Karen Gadbois, an activist who tracks the demolition issue at www.squanderedheritage.com, said an extension was inevitable, given the amount of work and the need for the city to prepare to deal with it. But she said there remains confusion about the program – including how a homeowner gets a property off the list – and she worries that won’t be cleared up in the next six months.

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