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FEMA nears cleanup completion
June 30 deadline for full compensation
By Michael Luke -   Jun 15, 2006

FEMA nears cleanup completion

With hurricane season underway once more, and after seven months of work, debris removal in the parish is nearing the end. 238,924 cubic yards of storm-related debris has been picked up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in St. Charles Parish as of June 9.

All of this debris has been taken to the site at Highway 90 near the Jefferson Parish line. "Right now, according to estimates, we are 96 percent complete," said FEMA Public Affairs Officer Barbara Sturner.

The 200,000 plus cubic yards of waste represents debris on public and private land. "The parish right now has about 1,100-1,200 rights of entry permits signed by homeowners that will allow us to go on to private property and pickup debris," said Sturner. "This (right of entry) covers vegetative debris, like fallen, dangerous trees, especially if it is near someone's home. It also covers personal items that are storm damaged."

Sturner said that FEMA has already removed debris from approximately 400 properties. "As it stands right now, June 30 is the deadline for 100 percent reimbursement," said Struner, meaning that FEMA pays 100 percent of eligible claims until the deadline, unless an extension is enacted. "The state has submitted a request to extend it and FEMA has to make that decision," said Sturner, adding that FEMA will probably wait until the deadline gets closer before deciding.

Sturner said if the extension is not granted, the federal government would pay 90 percent of costs. The parish or state could pay the other 10 percent.

While FEMA's cleanup does cover shingles blown off during the storm, it does not cover reconstruction or rebuilding materials and debris, such sheetrock scraps. "Some things are not covered by FEMA. "Let's say someone has gutted a house, and any debris from reconstruction is not eligible," said Sturner.

The hierarchy of the debris pickup puts FEMA in charge with the Army Corps of Engineers serving as the contractor, who in turn hires subcontractors to do the actual removal.

The type of debris that was brought to the curb -- whether storm-related or reconstruction -- by parish residents was central to the debate between FEMA and Waste Management, with parish residents caught in the middle.

Often, representatives from Waste Management claimed debris was storm-related. Frustration boiled over at the parish council, with the local government hiring Slidell-based Coastal Waste Services to take the place of Waste Management. In the aftermath, parish residents saw their bills increase over $5.

To date state-wide for Hurricane Katrina, FEMA has removed 44 million cubic yards, and for Hurricane Rita, the agency has collected an additional 8 million cubic yards. "To put that into context, a cubic yard is the size of a dishwasher," said Sturner.

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