Gustav cleanup case arbitration on May 19
Former Livingston Parish President Mike Grimmer, who halted Hurricane Gustav debris removal in 2009 over concerns about potential fraud, is slated to testify as a witness for the Federal Emergency Management Agency in an arbitration hearing over $59 million in cleanup cost reimbursements the agency has denied the parish.
Arbitration records are not public, but witness lists that The Advocate obtained Tuesday show parish officials, current and past, will testify on both sides of the case.
FEMA also will call upon Steven Monachello, a special agent with the Office of Inspector General, to testify about “the current criminal investigation activity surrounding Livingston Parish’s debris removal operations for Hurricane Gustav,” according to FEMA’s witness list.
FEMA has alleged parish contractors who oversaw the debris removal process were inexperienced, poorly trained and specifically advised to document ineligible work and submit fraudulent claims for reimbursement.
Parish officials said the vast majority, if not all, of the work performed met FEMA eligibility guidelines and, contrary to the agency’s recent statements, was praised by FEMA personnel on the ground at the time.
According to FEMA’s witness list, Grimmer is slated to testify about events surrounding the cleanup efforts after the 2008 storm.
Grimmer did not respond to a message left on his cellphone Tuesday seeking comment.
Grimmer halted debris removal in the summer 2009 after initial cleanup estimates of $5 million quickly soared to more than $50 million.
He questioned the eligibility of some of the work and alerted FEMA to his concerns, asking the agency to investigate the cleanup work that had been done to see what qualified.
He said he wanted that done before the parish accepted FEMA money and passed it on to the contractor.
FEMA also plans to call as a witness the chairman of Gravity Drainage District No. 1, Roy Zachary.
Zachary will testify about debris removal from waterways in the drainage district, as well as “discrepancies on the work and documents billed to the Gravity Drainage District which remain in dispute,” FEMA’s witness list states.
Zachary could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Also assisting FEMA at the hearing, but not testifying, will be former parish contractor Corey Delahoussaye, whose C-Del Inc. was hired by the parish in October 2009 to help resolve wetlands permit and mitigation issues stemming from the cleanup.
The Parish Council terminated its contract with C-Del in August 2011 after council members began raising questions about Delahoussaye’s invoices.
Delahoussaye faces 81 counts of alleged public records fraud and theft in a related criminal case in 21st Judicial District Court. He has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting a July hearing on his motion to recuse the District Attorney’s Office from the case.
Livingston Parish’s arbitration witness list includes the former director of the parish’s Office of Emergency Preparedness, Brian Fairburn, former Parish Councilman Jimmie McCoy and, following an amendment to the list Tuesday, Parish President Layton Ricks.
Fairburn and McCoy, along with multiple representatives from the debris removal and monitoring firms, will testify regarding the eligibility of the work performed and the statements and actions of FEMA personnel during the cleanup process.
The parish’s witness list also includes arborist Wendell Anthony, who ran many of the crews working for cleanup contractor International Equipment Distributors; engineers Eddie Aydell, Alvin Fairburn & Associates, and Chad Bacas, Forte & Tablada; and various other representatives for the contractors.
Other witnesses expected to testify on FEMA’s behalf include experts in forest hydrology, debris removal, arboriculture and several FEMA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers personnel.
In addition to its witness list, the parish submitted a list of 20 people who will attend part or all of the hearing.
Parish Council members, despite public requests for Ricks to include them, did not make the list.
Council Chairman Ricky Goff, who previously said he would pay his own way to Washington D.C., in hopes of attending the hearing, said Tuesday he was disheartened not to be included.
“I think the council should have a seat right next to the parish president,” Goff said. “It’s our goal to settle this thing and get some dollars and put it behind us. And to leave out your council, I don’t know that it gives the strength of position that we could and should have presented.”
Goff said he still plans to travel to Washington, D.C.
“I want to make my own conclusions, not have someone come back and say this is this and that is that,” he said.
Councilman Marshall Harris also expressed disappointment in the list, saying, “The bottom line is this: The council has not been in this process from the beginning, and we’re not in the process now.”
Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter @HeidiRKinchen.