Livingston: FEMA lied about Gustav

Livingston Parish alleges lies, bungling and withholding information are grounds for reversal of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s decision denying the parish $46 million in waterway cleanup costs after Hurricane Gustav.

FEMA investigators used the wrong geographic coordinates and couldn’t find streams where work was done after the 2008 hurricane, but still ruled the streams posed no flooding danger to inhabited property, according to a 76-page appeal supplement filed by the parish.

The supplement was prepared using the final allocation of funds by the Parish Council before it cited financial hardship and voted to end the contract of its appellate attorney at its last meeting.

The 76-page supplement alleges FEMA “continues to suppress” documents vital to the appeal.

That includes release of reports by two FEMA monitors who “supervised and praised the work during the project,” according to the document.

The supplement questions the ability of FEMA’s subsequently deployed “Tiger Teams” to find the 425 miles of streams and canals in the parish where the work was done.

Livingston has shown through documents that FEMA’s assertions that Tiger Team members actually “walked the whole 425 miles of the project was a patent, palpable lie,” the appeal document states.

“The Tiger Teams never even laid eyes on a large percentage of the stream segments they claimed to have surveyed,” the appeal supplement states. “In large part, they could not even find the streams,” because they were using the wrong GPS coordinates.

The Tiger Teams listed all coordinates in their report in the wrong format, according to the appeal supplement.

FEMA’s Tiger Teams consistently failed to locate the streams that the federal agency later claimed had been “walked from start to finish in their 100 percent visual inspection.”

There is documentation of “the ubiquitous phenomenon of clueless Tiger Teams wandering the countryside, allegedly in search of streams that they never found,” says the appeal filed by attorney Shelby Easterly III.

The teams concluded that stretches of streams such as Little Colyell Creek “did not involve eligible work because they could not find any evidence that the stream even existed,” the appeal document states.

“The idea that this Tiger Team supposedly comprised of ‘nationally recognized debris experts,’ could not find Little Colyell Creek is incredible,” the appeal states. “Little Colyell Creek is a major waterway that forms an important part of one of the most significant watersheds in the parish.

In fact, FEMA subsequently awarded a separate project grant to study dredging the Colyell system to stop flooding along Little Colyell and other connected streams, the appeal says.

“There really is a Little Colyell Creek. It really does flood. It really did need to have the debris removed from it,” the appeal continues, making similar comments about other parish waterways.

FEMA Tiger Team members reported there were no structures within 700 feet of Simeon Branch, even though it has “multiple homes right on its banks,” the appeal states.

Numerous pictures attached to the appeal purport to show flooding in areas where FEMA denied work on the grounds that there was no flooding danger to habitated areas.

FEMA denied 100 percent of the parish’s waterway cleanup costs, saying the parish’s contractor “conducted widespread waterway debris removal in wooded, unimproved tracts of private property” where there was no immediate threat to adjacent improved property, according to a letter of denial by FEMA.

The agency declined to comment on the parish’s latest document because it is part of an ongoing appeal.

The debris contractor, International Equipment Distributors Inc., filed suit against the parish in February, seeking about $53 million and saying that the parish owes IED for the work whether FEMA pays for it or not.