Cassidy: FEMA should reopen investigation on Livingston Parish damage

The Federal Emergency Management Agency should reopen an appeal by Livingston Parish that asks the federal agency to pay for the removal of dangerous trees after Hurricane Gustav, Rep Bill Cassidy said in a letter to FEMA.

The latest evidence “has strengthened my view that an investigation may be needed” of FEMA’s Louisiana Recovery Office, Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, said.

In October, Cassidy said in a letter to Tod Wells, deputy director of FEMA’s Public Assistance Division, that it appears “a detailed investigation of the Louisiana Recovery Office” is in order in a separate matter involving funds for waterway cleanup in Livingston Parish.

Now, he suggests a similar problem with the LRO’s handling of the parish’s bills for cleaning up dangerous trees and hanging limbs after the hurricane.

Evidence suggests the FEMA office in Louisiana “may have wrongly decided how much it would reimburse Livingston Parish and then found documentation to support that predetermined result,” Cassidy says in a Feb. 14 letter to Tony Robinson, FEMA’S regional administrator for Region VI.

In November, Livingston Parish asked FEMA to reopen the $13 million appeal saying that the federal agency used false information in its denial of the parish’s appeal.

The parish maintains in its request to reopen the appeal that FEMA used fictitious data and violated its own policies in denying the payments to the parish for the work involving dangerous trees.

FEMA has declined to comment on the merits of the case, but Dan Watson, press secretary for FEMA, confirmed the agency has received the Feb. 14 letter from Cassidy and said the matter is under review.

In January 2012, FEMA headquarters in Washington denied Livingston Parish’s appeal on the dangerous trees saying review of photographs and records confirmed the agency’s earlier finding that the work was ineligible for federal funding.

The parish also has a separate $46 million appeal to FEMA under way in connection with cleanup of debris in parish waterways after Hurricane Gustav.

The parish’s cleanup contractor, International Equipment Distributors, has sued the parish for nonpayment of $53 million in Gustav cleanup bills.

IED and its subcontractors handled both the waterway and dangerous tree cleanups for the parish.