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Polk County Enterprise - Local News
Stories Added - November 2008
Copyright 2008 - Polk Count
y Publishing Company

FEMA: Texas can afford Ike cleanup
Polk County Enterprise - November 2008
LIVINGSTON – Rep. Kevin Brady (R— The Woodlands) expressed his surprise at Gov. Rick Perry’s comments Thursday regarding the federal government’s response to Hurricane Ike. “Like the governor, we support 100 percent reimbursement because of the enormity of the devastation. However, given the positiveness of our recent White House discussions I’m a little surprised that Gov. Perry would make these comments,” Brady told The Polk County Enterprise in a phone interview Friday evening. Perry blasted the federal government’s handling of the reimbursement process during a press conference in Houston Thursday. Perry said he was outraged that Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff told local offi cials that Texas wouldn’t get the same level of reimbursement for debris removal as Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina because Texas has a budget surplus, according to the Houston Chronicle. The majority of the governor’s comments focused on debris removal which was being reimbursed at 100 percent by the Federal Emergency Management Agency until Oct. 26. The rate was lowered to 75 percent for work done after that time. Counties and cities are responsible for the 25 percent difference. Brady disagreed with the characterization that there was no alternative. He said counties had the option to use private contractors for the work with a 75/25 reimbursement rate or to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for 100 percent reimbursement. Brady said many counties and cities chose to use local contractors or because they wanted to avoid the bureaucratic delays of working with the Corps. “There have been 66 federally declared disasters in the nation this year and all of them have been reimbursed at 75/25,” Brady said. He added that in other states the 25 percent match is shared by the state and county while in Texas the 25 percent is the county’s responsibility. “It’s time for the state to pay its share,” added Brady. Brady also commented that recent White House discussions have centered around a “hybrid agreement” with 100 percent reimbursement for coastal communities and 90 percent for others. County Judge John Thompson toured the devastation while in Galveston for a judicial conference this week. Thompson joins Perry and Brady in calling for FEMA to expand the reimbursement to 100 percent. “What we heard yesterday from Judge [Robert] Eckels and Sen. Tommy Williams was that their conversation with Chertoff was that Texas was in good enough shape to pick up the 25 percent,” Thompson said. Thompson pointed out that everyone involved would like to see full reimbursement because all the affected areas have their own issues. The difference, he said, is one of magnitude. “We have debris cleanup issues and the coastal areas have toxic waste cleanup, bodies, animals – theirs is horrible. The idea is that the state has the money but, according to Sen. Williams, that money is already obligated, “ Thompson said. In addition to the federal reimbursement issues, Thompson also was disappointed that Deep East Texas has no representation on the Governor’s Commission for Disaster Recovery and Renewal. Despite being led to believe that Deep East Texas Council of Government (DETCOG) officials would have a place in the commission, there were no appointments from the 12-county region, leaving them out of the decision-making process. The commission’s initial charge will be to help solve the housing shortage in coastal areas devastated by Hurricane Ike. Over the long term, the commission will develop a report to identify critical elements to help communities fully recover from the effects of recent disasters; develop processes, protocols and standards to prepare for future disasters; and pinpoint strategies to rebuild affected communities. The commission’s final report to the governor, lieutenant governor, and speaker of the Texas House of Representatives is due June 30, 2009. Thompson said that no matter what happens the situation is going to be detrimental to the county’s budget. The county has improved its bond rating over the last few years by building up its reserves; however, Thompson said the county will probably have to open an interim line of credit in order to pay the contractor for the debris removal. “FEMA will reimburse us later, but our initial outlay could be as much as $3 million,” Thompson said. Brady said some of that burden could be mitigated by the state sharing the cost. “Because our communities are so small and the damage is so extensive, the state would do well to start helping,” Brady said. Pct. 2 Commissioner Ronnie Vincent just wishes Gov. Perry and FEMA would show the lake area some leniency in the time allowed for debris removal. “A lot of our property owners and homeowners on Lake Livingston live in Houston and had damage to their homes there,” Vincent said. “Many of them are just now getting here to clean up their lake properties which is why so much debris continues to pile up even though the contractors have made several passes.” “People have started to settle back into their comfort zones and become critical. We came through a Category 3 storm and things have gone remarkably well. We are lucky, there’s a lot of places much worse off. I wish FEMA had been more organized from the word “Go”, but there’s not a bottomless pit of money. Twenty-five percent beats having to pay the whole bill.”



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