Waiting on FEMA decision, Livingston officials weigh their options

$59 million on hold in Livingston over Gustav cleanup

Livingston Parish officials are weighing their options as they await the outcome of a $59 million arbitration case with the Federal Emergency Management Agency over Hurricane Gustav cleanup costs.

The parish and FEMA presented their arguments over unpaid bills during a weeklong hearing May 19-23 before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Civilian Board of Contract Appeals in Washington, D.C.

The panel has 60 days by law to issue a ruling but can take longer in complex cases.

Parish President Layton Ricks told the Parish Council on Thursday he believes the parish’s legal team put on a solid case with witnesses who were doing the day-to-day work of cleaning up the parish after the Sept. 1, 2008, storm.

“I don’t know at the end of the day whether the whole story means a lot to (the judges) or if it’s strictly black and white,” Ricks said. “I felt like the judges were looking for a way to help, but I’m sure FEMA sees it another way.”

FEMA has alleged the costs are ineligible for reimbursement due to a failure to follow FEMA regulations or secure the necessary wetlands permits. The parish contends it followed FEMA guidance given by agency officials on the ground at the time, only to later have those decisions reversed and the claims denied.

Councilman Jim Norred asked whether Ricks and the parish’s legal team had determined how a partial award would be divided among the contractors and whether future lawsuits for the difference could be avoided.

“We’ve lost a lot of sleep thinking about a lot of these scenarios,” Ricks said.

The parish president said he hopes the judges, if they award the parish only part of its $59 million claim, will specify how the money is to be divided.

If lawsuits with the contractors cannot be avoided, parish legal adviser Christopher Moody said, he would represent the parish in defending those suits if parish officials agree to pay him for that work.

“I think we have some strategies there, and I’d be more than happy to discuss those in private,” Moody said.

Ricks promised to keep the council informed about any updates as they come in and to make no decisions without its knowledge.

Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter @HeidiR Kinchen.