Storm recovery dominates parish council talk
By Jamie Anfenson-Comeau
Although it wasn’t an agenda item, hurricane recovery was the topic of discussion at last week’s St. Landry Parish Council meeting.
Communications specialist Michael Peacock of the U.S. Small Business Administration addressed the council regarding disaster assistance loans available through the program.
The loans are provided to homeowners, renters and businesses at a low interest rate to repair or replace property or real estate damaged by natural disaster.
The SBA also provides low-interest working capital loans to businesses and non-profit organizations having difficulty meeting their financial obligations as a result of natural disaster.
Peacock said that those applying for SBA loans need to register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) first, by calling 1-800-621-3362.
For further information, contact the SBA at 1-800-659-2955 or visit online at www.sba.gov/serices/disasterassistance.
The council also received a debris removal report from parish Solid Waste Administrator Katry Martin.
Parish crews are currently engaged in the removal of storm debris from areas including the municipalities of Palmetto, Melville, Krotz Springs. Port Barre, Grand Coteau and Sunset, as well as Opelousas and surrounding areas.
The cities of Eunice and Washington have chosen to opt out of the parish debris removal program and handle debris cleanup themselves.
Areas adjacent to the Eunice city limits are scheduled for debris pickup later this month.
Martin told the council that progress in debris pickup has been slow, and consequently the parish required DRC Emergency Services to post a $2 million performance bond.
That is important because if debris collection is not complete by FEMA’s deadline, the federal agency does not reimburse local government.
Hurricane Ike ,on the heels of Gustav, did cause some problems with the contractor but those are over and collection hit full swing this past week.
When Mayor Bob Morris opted not to join the parish in Gustav collection, he told critics one reason for his decision was that he thought the parish would be too slow in collection.
Those critics praised city workers for getting streets cleared and open so quickly after the storm, but worried the city might not recover its costs.
The parish piggy-backed on a St. John the Baptist collection and disposal contract, meaning it did not have to lose time advertising for and receiving bids.
Instead, it accept the contractual rates in the St. John agreement.
FEMA advises against such contracts even though they may be legal under state law.
But though it advises against, it also says such contract costs are eligible for reimbursement on a reasonable basis.
Martin is in charge of the parish program after offering his assistance based on prior experience with such matters in Acadia parish.
The parish has three disposal sites. Eunice is using the site on old La. 13 South that was used for the same purpose after Hurricane Lili.
Eunice collection has ground to a halt while the city constructs a monitoring tower at the disposal site.
Once that is in place and the contracted monitors are on the job, debris removal will resume.
FEMA reimburses cities on the basis of number of loads of debris and monitors are responsible for counting the matter and classifying it and assuring that it is counted only once.
Martin wished to remind residents to keep bags separate from loose piles of debris, and said that if individuals have not seen some degree of storm debris cleanup by Sept. 30, they should call (337) 826-5213.
The Solid Waste Commission voted last week to include any municipality in its reimbursement program for FEMA-approved expenses.
Currently, FEMA pays 75 percent of expenses it approves. The state has said it might reimburse local governments up to 12.5 percent.
The Solid Waste Commission initially voted to reimburse only cities and towns participating under the parish contract, but changed that to include all of them.
Until that vote, Eunice was not eligible, contrary to what was incorrectly reported Sept. 11 in The Eunice News.
Reimbursement applies only to recovery expense which meets FEMA approval and only that part of the local share that the state does not pick up.
“If someone doesn’t see debris removal by the end of the month in their area, we need to know,” parish president Don Menard said.
Menard also said that free tarps are available through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for temporary repair of roof damage.
For more information, Menard said to call his office at (337) 948-1218.
Menard had a special shout-out to the employees of the parish government, whom Menard said worked over 2,000 man-hours after the storm.
Because of everyone’s hard work, Menard said, “recovery efforts are going along real, real well.”