Miss. Katrina Debris Cleanup Continues at 100% Federal Funding

March 14, 2006

Hurricane Katrina created an estimated 46 million cubic yards of debris in Mississippi, of which more than 35 million cubic yards have been removed as of this week, according to federal and state officials involved in the cleanup.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Public Assistance program is reimbursing local applicants for 100 percent of the eligible cost of disaster-related debris removal or providing direct federal assistance through a mission assignment to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“The magnitude of this disaster makes it necessary to use every available resource to effectively clear debris and make communities livable and functional once again,” said Nick Russo, federal coordinating officer for the Mississippi disaster recovery.

“Six months after the hurricane, we estimate approximately 10 million cubic yards of land debris and another million cubic yards of water debris remain,” Russo said. “The water debris removal is the biggest challenge we face now.”

FEMA’s Public Assistance program reimburses state agencies, local governments, tribal authorities and certain private nonprofit organizations for eligible emergency measures and permanent work to repair or restore public facilities. Debris removal is an emergency measure and eligible for FEMA funding at 100 percent through
June 30, 2006. After that, and for all permanent work, the federal share is 90 percent.

“Removing disaster-related debris has been a massive undertaking, involving every applicable federal, state and local resource available to clear roads, rights of way, public lands and waterways throughout the state,” said Robert Latham, director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

Debris operations are complete in 66 of Mississippi’s 82 counties, all of which were eligible for emergency measures under the president’s disaster declaration for Hurricane Katrina. The 16 counties still doing debris removal are Covington, Forrest, George, Greene, Hancock, Harrison, Jackson, Jasper, Jones, Lamar, Lauderdale, Marion, Pearl River, Perry, Stone and Wayne.

Waterway debris

FEMA and the U.S. Coast Guard are working with the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources and other federal agencies as the “E-Team” (Eligibility Team) to assess waterway debris and determine the project scope, eligible applicant and appropriate funding agency.

To date, the E-Team has processed approximately 235 submitted requests from municipalities for waterway/marine debris including vessel, vehicle and tank removal. An estimated 132 Site Packages have been identified and contractor operations are scheduled to begin by mid-May 2006. Three targeted sites – Jordan River Isle (Bay St. Louis), Henderson Point (Pass Christian), and the Enger Street area in Hancock County – will be the first.

Eligible Debris Removal on Private Residential Property

Normally, FEMA does not reimburse applicants to remove debris from private property. However, for Hurricane Katrina, disaster specific guidance has been developed to allow the agency to pay to remove debris from private property if local authorities determined it to be an imminent threat to public health and safety.

Consequently, FEMA is funding debris removal from private residential property in 17 counties where local governing authorities have determined it poses a health and safety threat and property owners have signed right-of-entry agreements requesting debris removal or, in some extreme cases, demolition and debris removal.

To date, more than 70,000 requests for debris removal on private residential property have been received, of which approximately 58,500 have been determined eligible. About half of the eligible properties have been completed.

Of the nearly 5,200 eligible requests for demolition/debris removal on private residential property, more than 2,000 are done. If private property owners receive insurance proceeds for demolition done at federal expense, they are to remit it to the local authority, which is required to remit it to FEMA.

Local authorities in seven counties (Forrest, Hancock, Harrison, Jackson, Lamar, Pearl River and Stone) also identified private, commercial properties that were immediate threats to public health and safety and determined eligible by FEMA. The number is limited because, in most cases, commercial property owners have insurance that would preclude federal funding for debris removal.

Historic properties

The National Historic Preservation Act requires that federal agencies take into account the effects their projects will have on historic properties. This applies to any eligible work funded through FEMA’s Public Assistance program for state agencies, local governments, tribal authorities and certain private nonprofit organizations.

It also applies to any debris removal or demolition and debris removal on private property in this disaster. FEMA and state officials are reviewing right-of-entry requests against the survey of properties listed on or eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. FEMA environmental liaison officers for historic preservation have been consulting with the Mississippi State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) and the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. If necessary, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation may be consulted.

Among Mississippi sites that required special consideration: Historic Indian mounds on private property that could not be cleared of construction debris by mechanical means. In two cases, volunteer groups collected debris by hand from the mounds and brought it to the right-of-way for pickup.

Hazardous materials

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) are responsible for coordinating and overseeing the proper collection and disposal of hazardous wastes as a result of the storm. Hazardous materials (Hazmat) include tanks (propane, BBQ cylinders, above-ground storage), batteries, paint, flammable material, corrosives (acids), chlorine (pool chemicals), pesticides, waste oil, household chemicals and ammunition.

EPA is currently operating in Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties, supporting FEMA-eligible debris removal on private property. EPA already has sponsored more than 20 Hazmat drop-off events and more than 200 curbside pickups.

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