WASHINGTON — Leaders of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency will meet publicly with several of Louisiana’s top elected officials Tuesday for a hearing about the preparedness and recovery efforts for Hurricane Isaac.
The “Hurricane Isaac: Assessing preparedness, response, and recovery efforts” hearing at the Gretna Courthouse Complex was organized by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security and its chairwoman, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.
“While we’ve made important progress over these past years in sharpening FEMA’s capabilities, it’s clear that there is still much work to be done — particularly with the Corps of Engineers,” Landrieu said in the announcement. “The role of state and local governments, which is equally critical, will also be analyzed.”
Landrieu, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., parish leaders and others are expected to press the corps and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate on hurricane protection for the areas outside of the New Orleans area that were badly flooded and for the federal government to cover a greater share of the recovery costs of the Category 1 hurricane.
Kevin Davis, director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said Monday that total damage estimates in Louisiana currently stand at about $474 million — more than $312 million from parish-by-parish assessments and $161 million through state agencies.
East Baton Rouge, Jefferson, Lafourche, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. John the Baptist and St. Tammany parishes all have reported at least $5 million in damages thus far, according to GOHSEP. Plaquemines Parish, which sustained heavy flooding, by far reported the most damages at $192 million to this point.
Gov. Bobby Jindal has said he wanted 100 percent federal funding for the recovery in light of the state’s fiscal troubles and the multiple disasters it has suffered from other recent storms like hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and more.
But President Barack Obama’s pre-landfall emergency declaration for Louisiana has authorized 75 percent federal costs sharing thus far.
In order to break a threshold to receive 90 percent federal support, the state’s damages must hit an amount calculated at $593.8 million.
Louisiana received 100 percent federal support in 2005 after Katrina and Rita and the level of support in 2008 after Gustav was eventually lifted to 90 percent after the storm.
Davis said the state is still waiting on coastal damage assessments from the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority of Louisiana, as well as costs associated to individual public assistance and some debris removal projects.
Once those numbers are in within two weeks or so, Davis said he is confident the $593.8 million threshold will be surpassed.
“I think we will still reach that,” Davis said. “It’s a lot of work to put together those numbers.”
Davis said it is “tremendously” important, especially for local communities, to know how much of the costs are covered through federal support before local leaders feel comfortable authorizing significant infrastructure repair projects.
The not knowing “does create problems in your recovery,” Davis said, although he praised the initial FEMA response.
Davis said he intends to speak in detail with Fugate on Tuesday about how soon these questions can be answered once the state submits all of its damage assessments.
Baton Rouge FEMA spokesman Ray Perez said some level of patience is required because all of the paperwork and field assessments take time to finalize. For now though, everything is functioning under the 75 percent federal costs sharing.
Thus far, $36.7 million in federal assistance funds have been allocated to 25 different recovery projects in varying parishes and municipalities, Perez said, with much more to come.
State Rep. Jared Brossett, D-New Orleans, visited Washington, D.C., partly on an Isaac fact-finding mission.
Brossett said he is hopeful that the federal government will cover at least 90 percent of the costs but that nothing can be assumed.
“It does seem to be a little ways off,” he said of the $593.8 million threshold. “If we get that it would be a big help to the parish presidents and the state.”
But the state likely will still have some fiscal responsibilities, Brossett said, and may have to dip into its $130 million surplus windfall or its so-called “megafund” for economic development.
Brossett acknowledged Jindal likely would oppose any such efforts to reach into the megafund, but Brossett said it is vital to help support the parishes that were most damaged.
“If that’s not economic development, then I don’t know what is,” he said.