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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2005

    On Gulf Coast, Cleanup Differs Town to Town

    On Gulf Coast, Cleanup Differs Town to Town

    PASCAGOULA, Miss. - There is an eerie stillness here on Edgewood Avenue. Toys, broken glass and random pieces of furniture are strewn across yards. Not a single person is in sight. The only movement, nearly four months after the passing of Hurricane Katrina, comes from the stray cats that jump in and out of the ripped-open homes.

    Just west down the Gulf Coast, on Oak Street in Biloxi, the ground vibrates and the air is filled with the smell of diesel exhaust as laborers, on excavators, clean up after the storm, leaving behind empty lots, ripe for redevelopment.

    There are many reasons for the difference between the lack of progress in Pascagoula and the quick cleanup in the Biloxi area. But officials here point fingers at what they consider the No. 1 culprit: the federal government and, in particular, the Army Corps of Engineers.

    In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Harrison County, the home of Biloxi, and Jackson County, where Pascagoula is located, each had about 10 million cubic yards of debris to clean up. Both counties took up the federal government on its offer to foot the bill.

    But while Harrison County and all but one of its cities hired contractors on their own, Jackson County and its cities, at the urging of the federal government, asked the Army Corps to take on the task. Officials in Jackson County said it was a choice they had regretted ever since.

    The cleanup in Jackson County and its municipalities has not only cost millions of dollars more than in neighboring counties, but it is also taking longer. The latest available figures show that 39 percent of the work was complete in Jackson County, while 57 percent was done in Harrison County and its cities that are managing the job on their own, according to federal records.

    "Something is very wrong here," said Frank Leach, a Jackson County supervisor. "Our federal government is paying an extraordinary amount of money for services that are not being performed adequately."

    The same appeared to hold true in Louisiana: The cleanup from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita was 45 percent finished in jurisdictions that called in the corps, and nearly 70 percent complete in communities that employed private contractors, state records showed. The imbalance remained even when New Orleans, where the cleanup has been particularly complex and slow, was removed from the tally. Across the Gulf Coast, the cleanup was, on average, about 60 percent done, records showed.

    Army Corps officials said they were moving as quickly and responsibly as they could.

    "The scope of this disaster is just extraordinary," said Frank Worley, a spokesman. "There's really no comparison to it."

    But that answer, to local officials, was not sufficient. Jackson County board members voted earlier this month to terminate their deal with the Army Corps, deciding that even at this late date, they would be better off with their own contractors.

    Pascagoula and other Jackson County cities are sticking with the corps. But City Manager Kay Kell of Pascagoula said she was disappointed. Her city had a private contract to clean debris for $7.80 a cubic yard, but now relies on the corps, which is paying its contractor $17 to $19 a cubic yard for the same work.

    "It's very depressing," Ms. Kell said. "As long as those homes are sitting there, somebody's life is at a standstill. It is dead stopped."

    With a nudge from an excavator's giant steel claws, what remains of one homeowner's garage in the Point Cadet section of Biloxi shakes, then collapses in a pile of dust. The process of taking down what is left of this house is nothing special. But how the work has proceeded here in Biloxi has allowed this city and other parts of Harrison County to move far ahead of their neighbors in the race to clean up.

    Instead of trying to clear one house at a time, Biloxi officials condemned entire neighborhoods. The Sun Herald newspaper recently published an eight-page list of properties, in fine print, notifying thousands of Biloxi property owners that "to preserve the public health, safety and welfare" of their neighborhoods, the bulldozers were coming soon.

    "The quicker we get all of this stuff away, the faster we can start getting back to normal," Mayor A. J. Holloway said.

    Not all of the homes in the condemned neighborhoods will be demolished. But unless a property owner objects, crews will remove remains of any houses or other large chunks of debris. Already, more than 740 homes in three neighborhoods have been demolished or debris on properties simply cleared away.

    Some residents have complained that the cleanup is barreling ahead too quickly. "They're bullying people," said John Grower of Gulfport, whose property was cleared while he was waiting for insurance investigators to finish evaluating it. "It's martial law."

    But officials said the faster pace meant that property owners could start planning for reconstruction, or at least move government-provided trailers, as temporary housing, onto their land.

    "I am touched," said Nhin Tran, 58, as a trailer was set up earlier this month on her property in Point Cadet after it was cleared, allowing her to move out of a tent. "I now know what the next day will bring."

    In Biloxi, whole neighborhoods are now primed for new development. But in Pascagoula, 25 miles east, only about 25 residential lots have been cleared.

    Officials in Jackson County and Pascagoula cite numerous reasons for the delays.

    One is the complexity of the contract the Corps of Engineers has with Ashbritt, a Pompano Beach, Fla., company that is overseeing the debris collection in Mississippi and parts of Louisiana. Its 192 pages include sections on the type of office paper the company uses and a ban on releasing information to the news media without the written permission of the Army Corps. (Ashbritt officials declined to comment for this article.)

    Simply getting an agreement from the Army Corps on the exact wording for the legal release document that residents must sign to authorize contractors to clear their homes took several weeks, officials said.

    Then the Army Corps and its federal partners repeatedly gave new demands, such as satellite-based measurements on the location of each house, before large-scale clearing could start, county officials said.

    [Michael H. Logue, an Army Corps spokesman, said last week that the desire to hire local subcontractors had often meant working with smaller, Mississippi-based companies without a large supply of heavy-duty equipment, slowing progress at times. The possibility that human remains may be mixed in with debris has also slowed the cleanup. "If you are going to do it right and you are going to do it safe and in way that helps the victims and makes it obvious that you care about them, you can't just go in there with a heavy hand and lots of steam," he said.]


  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2005

    Re: On Gulf Coast, Cleanup Differs Town to Town

    As the demands grew, the amount of debris being cleared each day in Jackson County dropped to about 12,000 cubic yards a day from 75,000 cubic yards a day, according to local officials.

    "There was just so much bureaucracy, so many levels of approvals, that nobody seemed to be able to make a decision and get things done," said Manly Barton, president of the Jackson County Board of Supervisors.

    Benny Rousselle, president of Plaquemines Parish in Louisiana, said he had encountered the same problems. Even though a house may be about to collapse and its owner has approved its demolition, the federal government requires rigorous structural, historical and environmental evaluations of each property before the Army Corps will take it down, Mr. Rousselle said.

    "There are so many monitors, so much overhead, it is really slowing this down," he said.

    Impatient Plaquemines officials have hired their own contractors to start doing the work, Mr. Rousselle said. They have cleaned up about 600 of the approximate 6,000 damaged or destroyed properties. The corps had not cleared a single house, he said.

    By any measurement, the cleanup work caused by Hurricane Katrina is the most complex and far-reaching disaster recovery in United States history.

    In the aftermath of the storm, 88 million cubic yards of debris - including tree limbs, furniture, refrigerators and shredded pieces of whole houses - were strewn across Mississippi and Louisiana, enough to fill nearly nine million dump trucks. Hurricane Andrew in Florida in 1992, then the most destructive on record, generated 14 million cubic yards of debris.

    Federal officials declined to release any data that would allow a direct comparison of the cost of the Army Corps cleanup versus work done directly for local governments, saying it was proprietary. All that they would release is a $2.2 billion estimate for the Army Corps' share of the work, which covers about half of the debris in Mississippi and two-thirds in Louisiana.

    But a survey by The New York Times of the governments on the Mississippi coast that have hired their own contractors found an average price of $14 a cubic yard. All but one community had secured a lower price than the $17 to $19 per cubic yard that the corps charges, which does not include disposal or other overhead. The Army Corps has also nearly 800 employees supervising cleanup and has paid as many as 300 inspectors a rate of $55.79 an hour to monitor the work by the private contractors.

    The Army Corps work has won some praise. Homes are often cleared one at a time, instead of entire streets at once, so property owners, like Yvette Gonzales, 76, of Bay St. Louis, can be there to watch. Mrs. Gonzales even requested that the crew search for a handmade quilt that had special meaning to her family. The quilt never turned up, but the crew found the tiny wedding cake statue that Mrs. Gonzales had saved since her marriage in 1949.

    "It brings it all back," said Mrs. Gonzales, whose husband died nine years ago. "It makes you remember those good times."

    In some cases, the corps takes extra steps that add to the cost of the work and the time it takes to complete it. For example, the Army Corps contractors who are working to remove the thousands of refrigerators and other appliances left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina operate much differently than private contractors.

    In Hancock County, Miss., where the Army Corps is in charge, contractors in protective suits carefully open refrigerators and meticulously clean them out, sanitizing the interiors with a cleaning solution. Workers remove Freon gas. Quality-control supervisors watch every step. Army Corps officials would not say how much the operation costs, but in Louisiana they are paying more than $1.8 million to process and dispose of these so-called white goods.

    In neighboring Harrison County, once the refrigerators are dropped off at a landfill, the government's financial obligation ends. A recycling contractor, eager to get the scrap metal, removes the Freon. In most cases, the spoiled food is removed by lifting the refrigerator atop a lined dumpster and shaking it. No biohazard suits are involved.

    Some local officials said they were glad that the Army Corps was spending the extra time and money.

    "Twenty years from now I don't want young mothers giving birth to kids with birth defects because we found out we did not do proper dumping," said Representative Gene Taylor, a Democrat from Bay St. Louis, Miss., where the Army Corps is in charge of cleaning up.

    Mr. Worley, from the Army Corps, said that if the agency was handling the cleanup any differently, it would also get criticized.

    "Over the years we have gotten hammered for the opposite," he said. "We are doing it the way we are supposed to do it and, yes, it takes time. And it costs money, absolutely."

    But John Record, a manager from Custom Recycling of Cody, Wyo., a private contractor that is processing refrigerators in Harrison County, said he was convinced that his cheaper approach was environmentally friendly, with state and federal inspectors checking regularly to ensure that.

    "It's like killing a fly with a sledgehammer," Mr. Record said of the Army Corps' approach. "They seem to have an unlimited budget, so I guess they can do it that way."

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Richmond, Texas

    Re: On Gulf Coast, Cleanup Differs Town to Town

    This could actually belong in the "What I am Thankful for:" thread but it relates to here as well.

    I live just west of Houston and I am very thankful that Hurricane Rita took her destructive path to the east of my home at the last minute.

    But this is how my comments tie to this thread, If Rita had hit the greater houston metropolitan area, We would be experiencing in mass the ineffiencies that are created by a government that has over the last 80 years grown to a size where incompetance in the intergovernmental agencies might well prove to be the norm and not the exception.

    On the other side of the coin, you have to balance the massive amount of good things that have also be attributed to our government but more so you have to appreciate the individuals who responded and are still responding to these truly catastropic events. We are truly a great nation.

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