Saturday, August 19, 2006

FEMA snubs Louisiana Congressman who asks reasonable question

Hurricane Rita all but destroyed Cameron Parish. Beaches, businesses, houses, camps, vehicles, and roads were washed away, leaving miles of debris. Cameron Parish used to be known for its fishing camps, beaches and birding trails. A year after the hurricane, only about 5% of Cameron's residents have returned. Saltwater inundation, levee damage, marsh destruction, and a giant accumulation of debris have wiped out most of the wildlife in the marshes of both Cameron and Vermillion Parishes.

Thousands of animals were killed by Rita. Deer, muskrats, alligators were taken out. Then saltwater rushed into the freshwater marshes, killing all the freshwater fish. Naturally, this affected the bird population, which, before Rita, was varied and thriving.

The storm surge pried loose the top layer of aquatic vegetation--"rolled it up like a giant carpet," creating what a Louisiana biologist calls "an ecological nightmare." Without the vegetation, the marsh simply comes apart, and an entire ecosystem is destroyed.

Between one thing and another, the people of Cameron Parish have major problems on their hands. Debris removal is one of those problems, but FEMA has stopped paying the full cost of debris removal in the parish, which is now required to pay 10% of the fees. This does not sound like much, but with no population, no economy, and major environmental issues, the parish cannot afford the bill. Complicating the matter is the fact that FEMA arbitrarily agreed to continue 100% financing of debris removal from five parishes hit by Katrina.

U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany Jr. has asked the Department of Homeland Security why Cameron Parish is being treated this way, and the answer, to quote the New Orleans Times-Picayune, was "buzz off." So far, Boustany has not received an adequate explanation. It is understood by everyone that parishes that can carry some of the expense should do so, but Cameron is probably the least able, of all the parishes, to carry any expenses. And, as the Times-Picayune editorial points out, after FEMA's massive over-spending on Katrina-related contracts and services, there should be plenty of money left over to haul debris. FEMA misspent the funds and now Cameron Parish is getting punished.

Perhaps Republican Boustany is getting some type of lesson here, too, but I wouldn't hold my breath on that one.


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