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30-mile debris pile becomes symbol of FEMA delays

Discussion in 'Political Zone' started by WoodysGirl, Dec 2, 2008.

  1. WoodysGirl

    WoodysGirl Do it for the Vine! Staff Member

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    By Michael Graczyk, Associated Press Writer – Mon Dec 1, 3:55 pm ET

    SMITH POINT, Texas – A 30-mile scar of debris along the Texas coast stands as a festering testament to what state and local officials say is FEMA's sluggish response to the 2008 hurricane season.

    Two and a half months after Hurricane Ike blasted the shoreline, alligators and snakes crawl over vast piles of shattered building materials, lawn furniture, trees, boats, tanks of butane and other hazardous substances, thousands of animal carcasses, perhaps even the corpses of people killed by the storm.

    State and local officials complain that the removal of the filth has gone almost nowhere because FEMA red tape has held up both the cleanup work and the release of the millions of dollars that Chambers County says it needs to pay for the project.

    Elsewhere along the coast, similar complaints are heard: The Federal Emergency Management Agency has been slow to reimburse local governments for what they have already spent, putting the rural counties on the brink of financial collapse.

    "I don't know all the internal workings of FEMA. But if they've had a lot of experience in hurricanes and disaster, it looks like they could come up with some kind of process that would work," said Chambers County Judge Jimmy Sylvia, the county's chief administrator.

    Gov. Rick Perry was so incensed at delays in sending cleanup crews to the rotting, city-size pile of waste that he angrily told reporters two weeks ago that he is going to have the state clean it up and then stick FEMA with the bill.

    FEMA, whose very name became a bitter joke after the agency's botched response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, said it is working as fast as it can considering the complex regulations and the need to guard against fraud and waste in the use of taxpayer dollars.

    Moreover, "you can't work too many people because it's just too dangerous," said Clay Kennelly, hired by FEMA to oversee the cleanup of a section of the debris pile. "And you can't just put Bubba or Skeeter out here on a dozer."

    The 2008 hurricane season ended this week after walloping the Texas and Louisiana Gulf coasts with three major storms: Dolly, near the Mexican border in July; Gustav, which slammed the Texas-Louisiana line on Labor Day; and Ike, the 600-mile-wide monster that barreled ashore at Galveston on Sept. 12.

    Only a hundred yards or so of the 30 miles of debris in Chambers County has been cleaned up, because the project has been slowed by negotiations over who is responsible for what.

    Along the rest of the Gulf Coast, thousands of homeless families are still living in tents, trailers and motel rooms, and hundreds of businesses are lying in near-ruin.

    The federal government is responsible for public lands or hazardous waste, while private landowners must handle their own cleanup but can apply for assistance. Much of the debris has been left to rot while crews determine whose land the junk is on and what's in it.

    Galveston County Judge Jim Yarbrough tells the story of receiving word on Sept. 12, as Ike closed in on Galveston, that FEMA was sending him $1.8 million of his $3 million request for storm cleanup — from Hurricane Rita, three years ago.

    "Good Lord! The red tape and rules you have to go through to get anything done," Yarbrough said. "On Hurricane Ike, when we're putting out tens of millions, we can't afford a three-year reimbursement program. It would bankrupt most entities in this area if it takes that long."

    In Louisiana, hit by two storms this year, Gov. Bobby Jindal complimented the agency on improvements made since Katrina but criticized FEMA's focus on paperwork and an inability to make decisions quickly.

    "It has gotten better, but the problem you've got with FEMA is that they're looking for reasons to say `no,'" Jindal said. "While they've made progress since '05, there's such an emphasis on filling out paperwork. They need to have a focus on results."

    In an e-mail statement, FEMA said the recovery process "continues seamlessly," and it noted the many rules and overlapping jurisdictions involved.

    "The steps in the process of recovery include many at the individual, local, state and federal level," FEMA said. "In large measure they are understandable safeguards."

    FEMA pointed out that more than $1 billion in federal and state aid already has gone to Texas in disaster assistance since Ike, with about one-third of that in grants for temporary housing rent and another third in low-interest loans for renters, homeowners and businesses. The state has estimated the total pricetag at $11 billion.

    Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, whose area includes Houston, complained that FEMA's bureaucracy is unwieldy. He recalled a FEMA official showing up at his office after Ike and declaring he was "going to be joined at the hip with you in this whole process."

    "Then the next week, somebody else would show up and tell me the same thing," Emmett said. And then somebody else. "That was really frustrating to me."

    Near the Mexican border, thousands of families remain in homes damaged by Dolly, the storm that blew ashore on South Padre Island on July 23. FEMA was helpful at first, but bureaucracy and the distraction of the other hurricanes have slowed the recovery, local officials said.

    A farmworker rights organization and 14 poor South Texas residents sued FEMA last month, accusing the agency of refusing to help thousands of poor families repair their homes.

    "I understand they have Hurricane Ike, but we had a Category 2 come through the Valley, too," Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas said.

    ___

    Associated Press reporters Christopher Sherman in McAllen, Texas, and Doug Simpson in Baton Rouge, La., contributed to this story.

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20081201/ap_on_re_us/fema_s_mess
  2. burmafrd

    burmafrd Well-Known Member

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    Actually you can blame congress too since they are the ones that write the laws that end up fueling a bureaucracy like virtually every federal agency has.
    And the paper work is a natural outgrowth of that bureacracy. Administrators demand it to cover their own rear ends against charges of favoritism or some auditor that demands it. That is a real fear in government=not having that form that shows you followed the rules.
    And that is another reason why government will NEVER be efficient.
  3. trickblue

    trickblue Old Testament... Zone Supporter

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    Another government program full of ineffectiveness and red tape...

    I can't wait until the government tackles health care... should be a smooth transition...
  4. Phrozen Phil

    Phrozen Phil Active Member

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    The pile of debris is an indicator of incompetence on the part of FEMA. Did it have to be that way? No. FEMA is currently under control of the Bush administration. His appointment of Mike Brown, who was clearly unqualified for the job and his subsequent incompetence after the fact should not deter the new administration from simply attempting to do a good job.
  5. zrinkill

    zrinkill Diamond surrounded by trash

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    :lmao2:

    Was only a matter of time.
  6. trickblue

    trickblue Old Testament... Zone Supporter

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    You don't pay enough attention to how our government works PP...
  7. Phrozen Phil

    Phrozen Phil Active Member

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    Perhaps some folks don't want it to work. Someone has to clean up the mess and deal with the long term consequences. If not FEMA, then who?
  8. Rackat

    Rackat Active Member

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    You said it more succinctly than I was going to. Most government employees (not appointees) are long term employees, particularly in Washington. Once they are entrenched in a position, it is virtually impossible to remove them. Good or bad decisions are carried out by the employees, so even if a good decision was made, the entrenched employees can muck it up.

    FC: No, not all government employees are bad.
  9. Phrozen Phil

    Phrozen Phil Active Member

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    Then what is the solution? The status quo isn't working.
  10. Rackat

    Rackat Active Member

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    Seriously, do you care? Rather than come in with a solution from the outset, it was "blame Bush" again. Coming from the Frozen north, I can understand your more government mentality, I just don't want it for my country.

    Solution? Federalism. Give the states back their ability to fund and staff their own SEMA. The states are more aware of what they need locally and what type of disasters are most common. They should be the ones to have the wherewithal to respond.
  11. trickblue

    trickblue Old Testament... Zone Supporter

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    Who said not FEMA? I was just pointing out that most all of our government run programs are mired in red tap and incompetence, yet somehow you manage to blame Bush. There are many reasons for this. Lifetime employees such as Rackat pointed out. OTHER government programs sticking their nose where it doesn't belong, etc...

    I guess Katrina was all on Bush/Brown. The state itself and one of the most incompetent governors in the history of Louisiana (and that's saying a lot) manage to skate free under your thinking.

    It will get cleaned up, but by the time it does it will have cost 20 times as much as it should have.

    And please... don't start with the "Perhaps some folks don't want it to work". We've seen almost 8 years of many Americans and congress publicly wishing failure for Bush at every turn.
  12. Phrozen Phil

    Phrozen Phil Active Member

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    I'm not trying to be cynical or sarcastic in my reponse. I care because I have friends on the Gulf Coast. While Bush does bear some repsonsibility for what happened after Katrina, there appears to be plenty of blame to go around. Your suggestion that more local control makes sense. That's the answer to my question. I appreciate your reponse.
  13. Rackat

    Rackat Active Member

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    You're welcome.
  14. Phrozen Phil

    Phrozen Phil Active Member

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    I don't wish for anyone to "fail". I beleive that governments have a reponsibility to respond to their population at at time of crisis. Katrina was not an example of how to repond. The most recent hurricane (Ike) which went through Galveston seemed to have a better reponse. It just seems dissapointing to see the aftermath become a finger pointing exercise. I have two friends who were enjoying their warm weather retreat lose it all and are back up here trying to pick up the pieces. They spent all of their money trying to get their place back in shape. It does have a personal impact on me. Forgive my frustration.
  15. Rackat

    Rackat Active Member

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    I appreciate your concern for friends, but didn't you come in pointing fingers? Just saying.
  16. Phrozen Phil

    Phrozen Phil Active Member

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    That's a fair criticism. I guess I'd just like to see some results for my friends. They didn't do anything wrong, but they're stuck at every turn.
  17. Sasquatch

    Sasquatch Lost in the Woods

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    I suppose if you repeat it often enough it will begin to acquire a sort of reality despite factual evidence suggesting that government bureaucracies are in many cases more efficient, more cost-effective, (military contractors, prescription drugs, health insurance, tax collection, etc.), and above all more ACCOUNTABLE than the private sector.

    Here's a quote from a story that NPR ran this morning:

    And the IRS's own calculations even show that government employees are more efficient: for every dollar spent trying to collect taxes, government workers collect three times as much as the collection companies do.

    From: New President Faces Powerful Federal Contractors
  18. Viper

    Viper Active Member

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    My guess is, if a collection company could surround your home with guns drawn they would be much more efficient in their collection process.
  19. ThaBigP

    ThaBigP New Member

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    Read the Constitution, and you'll see the solution is a free people behaving responsibly and working on a local level to solve their problems. That's why we have cities...and counties...and states...and so forth. Even Perry tipped his hat in that direction saying that if FEMA didn't get its act together, the state of TX will do it...and send the bill to FEMA. THAT is the solution.
  20. WoodysGirl

    WoodysGirl Do it for the Vine! Staff Member

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    :laugh2: You have a point there.

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