LIVINGSTON — The Livingston Parish Council voted 5-4 Thursday to continue a fight with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to get $46.1 million in cleanup funds that have been denied by FEMA.
Councilman Ricky Goff said he finds it hard to believe that Hurricane Gustav dropped trees into streams in Livingston Parish and now FEMA is saying none of them needed to be removed.
Goff successfully moved to pay $20,000 more to continue the parish’s appeal of the costs to cleanup the parish drainage system after the storm. Those costs were all denied by FEMA.
Councilman Marshall Harris said Thursday night’s question was whether to end the appeal now and stop spending taxpayers’ money.
Councilman Jim Norred said the council is “between a rock and a hard place” in which it might spend the money and get no results or not spend the money and be questioned to why it didn’t continue to pursue the matter.
Councilwoman Joan Landry said spending $20,000 on the appeal could save the parish a lot of money in the future.
The parish’s contractor has sued the parish for $53 million in unpaid cleanup bills.
Asked by Chairwoman Cindy Wale if FEMA committed fraud, council attorney Shelby Easterly III said he used the word “misrepresentation” in the appeal.
FEMA found 30 streams eligible for cleanup and then suppressed that information and found them ineligible.
Easterly said he is going through thousands of pages of records, seeking additional evidence of such cases.
What FEMA has done to the parish is wrong, Parish President Layton Ricks told the council.
In voting to continue the appeal, Goff was joined by Landry, Sonya Collins, Ronnie Sharp and Delos Blackwell.
Harris, Norred, Wale and Chance Parent voted against continuing the appeal.
“It’s a fact that they owe us money,” Ricks said. “I think they owe us a lot of money.”
The difference now is that the parish’s congressional delegation is finally convinced of that and is fighting alongside the parish to get FEMA to pay, he said.
Earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy called for an investigation of FEMA’s Louisiana Recovery Office, saying the parish has presented “very serious and apparently well-documented accusations of wrongdoing.”