Arbitration set for May in Livingston case against FEMA

Livingston Parish officials have a date with a three-judge panel that will hear the parish’s arbitration case against FEMA for $59 million in unpaid cleanup costs from Hurricane Gustav.

The U.S. Civilian Board of Contract Appeals in Washington, D.C., will hear the dispute May 19-23, Parish President Layton Ricks said Tuesday.

The parish is trying to recover $44 million for debris removal from the parish’s waterways after the 2008 storm, $14 million for removal of “leaners and hangers” (trees and limbs that posed an immediate threat to public safety) and $1 million for administrative costs.

The $59 million claim is the largest amount to-date sought from the Federal Emergency Management Agency through arbitration, the parish’s lead attorney, Hilary S. Cairnie of Baker Hostetler, has said.

The parish’s legal team is still conducting interviews with potential witnesses in the case, Ricks said. The witness list must be finalized and submitted to the panel by May 5.

Ricks said seating at the much-anticipated hearing will be limited. The hearing will be held in a small conference-type room, he said.

“I don’t know yet who they will let in,” he said. “A couple of council members have already said they want to go, and we’re waiting to find out” who will be allowed to attend.

FEMA has denied the parish’s claims, instead alleging parish contractors performed ineligible work that the parish’s monitors then fraudulently submitted for reimbursement.

Parish officials have said FEMA’s own personnel on the ground praised the parish’s cleanup efforts, and the agency only later denied the claims based on “highly flawed and incorrect” analysis.