Brad's Blog: Burning down cottages becomes a red hot issue

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - In the days after Katrina, when people were struggling to live comfortably in their FEMA trailers, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) got a $281 million grant to create the Mississippi Alternative Housing Program.  On the MEMA website is this description for the new Mississippi cottages:  "The purpose of the program is to develop and produce a safer and more comfortable temporary housing unit for use after a disaster."

Fast forward to earlier this week.  Harrison County Fire Marshal George Mixon met me on County Farm Road.  Three MEMA cottages sat on a lot across from the soccer fields.  And each one had the words fire, and fire training spray painted across them.

"They not livable units," Mixon explained.

They're not livable because according to MEMA spokesman Greg Flynn, "All three were contaminated with meth products."  And the agency didn't want anybody to be exposed to the health hazard.

So, MEMA offered the cottages to the fire marshal.  And a few days ago, he got title to all three units.  The words "salvage only" are stamped on each receipt.

"We're going to burn all three of these trailers for training and education purposes," said Mixon.

When the cottages showed up on County Farm Road, Angel Middleton was skeptical.  When she found out they were about to be burned, she called WLOX and asked the news department to look into the situation.

Guess who showed up at the County Farm Road site while Mixon was explaining why the cottages had to be burned?  Ms. Middleton works near the site.  She said she was driving by, saw the WLOX news car, and wanted to know if anybody had any answers to her questions.

She was told that just one cottage was contaminated with meth.  The other two, she understood, had people die in them.  She questioned why those had to be destroyed.  She called the destruction project another example of government waste.

"It just sounds crazy," said Middleton.  She was adamant that burning down the cottages was taking potential homes away from people who needed places to live.

When she was asked if she knew anybody who needed a cottage, she paused, shook her head, and said not at the moment.

However, a nearby pastor did.  He also showed up at the cottage site.  And he also had questions for the fire marshal about why the temporary homes had to be destroyed.  He said his parish had a family who was down on its luck, and needed a place to stay.

"A mother and a daughter that's trying to get out of the situation that they're in.  They're living in a shack with no water, no sewer," he explained to the fire marshal.

Mixon reiterated what he told Ms. Middleton.  The cottages were contaminated, and could no longer be used as temporary homes.  So, he said he was going to put them to use "training volunteers so when we have a real one, they're ready.  It's going for a good cause.  It may not be the one you want."

The pastor said, "I want somebody living in them."

Mixon answered that by saying, "But that isn't going to happen.  These aren't inhabitable."

After the pastor left, Mixon said he understood the passion of the people who wanted to help others.  But he emphasized that the county was not wasting taxpayer money.  It was putting the three contaminated trailers to good use.  Training and educating volunteer firemen would ultimately save somebody's life.

Mixon noted the MEMA definition for Mississippi cottages.  He said they weren't built for people simply down on their luck.  They were temporary homes, built for Katrina victims who were trying to rebuild after a disaster.

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