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FEMA Rebuffs DHS, To Continue Paying For New Orleans Katrina Damage

Tegan Wendland
A sinkhole in Uptown New Orleans.

A federal audit says FEMA should stop sending money to the City of New Orleans for repairing road and water-system damage sustained during hurricanes Katrina and Rita almost 12 years ago.


FEMA disagrees with the findings, and the city plans to press forward with repairs.


In order to get money from FEMA to repair its streets and sewer lines, city officials had to prove the damage was caused directly by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. After reviewing documents and consulting with engineers, FEMA agreed. It pledged to give the city $2.04 billion in December 2015.


But this audit, by the Office of Inspector General at the Department of Homeland Security, says New Orleans’ streets and sewers were in bad condition before the storms, and asserts the city shouldn’t have been eligible for the money in the first place. It asks FEMA to stop giving money to the city for repairs.


FEMA says it disagrees with the Department of Homeland Security’s recommendation, and it stands by its decision.


Zach Butterworth is director of Federal Affairs for the City. He says he agrees with FEMA.


“It’s pretty self-evident that Katrina damaged our roads,” he says. “It damaged our water, sewage, and drainage systems. Thirteen feet of water for three weeks -- the idea we’re still having to prove that is unfortunate. ”


Butterworth says the city has already spent about $350 million on repairs.


The Inspector General can't force FEMA to follow its recommendation not to send the money, and it's unclear the IG's office would appeal to higher-ranking officials at DHS -- like the Under Secretary. In the meantime, though, Butterworth says the city plans to keep billing the feds. He says the city plans to spend another $300 million on infrastructure repairs over the next year.


Support for the Coastal Desk comes from the Walton Family Foundation, the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Coypu Foundation, and local listeners.

As Coastal Reporter, Travis Lux covers flood protection, coastal restoration, infrastructure, the energy and seafood industries, and the environment. In this role he's reported on everything from pipeline protests in the Atchafalaya swamp, to how shrimpers cope with low prices. He had a big hand in producing the series, New Orleans: Ready Or Not?, which examined how prepared New Orleans is for a future with more extreme weather. In 2017, Travis co-produced two episodes of TriPod: New Orleans at 300 examining New Orleans' historic efforts at flood protection. One episode, NOLA vs Nature: The Other Biggest Flood in New Orleans History, was recognized with awards from the Public Radio News Directors and the New Orleans Press Club. His stories often find a wider audience on national programs, too, like NPR's Morning Edition, WBUR's Here and Now, and WHYY's The Pulse.

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