Hancock County Workers Protest New FEMA Rules

Debris clean up in Hancock County came to a halt Tuesday morning as workers contracted by the government to do the job parked their trucks in protest. A new set of rules for clean up from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers started the standoff.

The crews stopped in their tracks along Highway 90 in Waveland.

"There are four lanes here, we blocked one on each side and let the through traffic go through. The State Police come in and said, 'If you don't move, we're going to take you all to jail,'" Arizona contractor Tony Jones said.

Jones said the protest was in response to new rules from FEMA and the US Army Corps of Engineers.

"We get told this morning at 6'oclock that they are allowing one monitor per loader, not per company, but per area. That monitor from the Army Corps of Engineers has to sit there and dictate what pile of debris gets removed," Dennis Whitehurst of Texas said.

Clean up crews say that will slow down the process tremendously.

"You can't come in here and load one truck at a time and let the other ten crews wait while the monitor goes around and says, Okay, it's your turn to load now.' Our kids won't see this place cleaned up at that rate," Hancock County resident Jamie Bean said.

Jimmy Smith of South Carolina agreed with Bean.

"Where we're loading 50 trucks an hour now, we'll be loading one truck an hour per section. It will take 50 years to clean this place up."

The general consensus among the clean-up crews is that it's hard to do business in Hancock county. They say something has to give.

"You can't work like this," Bean said. "What's going to happen is we're going to lose all these people out of our town to clean our town up. They are going to go to New Orleans, they're going to go to Harrison County, they're going to go to Jackson County, wherever, cause these guys have spent money to get down here and they need to make money now."

"We need help period. Stop fighting and just work. Let them help," Rosemary Paul of Hancock County said.

The decision makers at FEMA and the U.S Army Corps of Engineers must have heard her plea. By mid-afternoon they decided to scratch the new rules and put the crews back to work.

"We talked to FEMA because we support FEMA's mission, cause that's what we're here to do. They were agreeable to it at this point and time and we'll move forward," Russell Retherford of the U.S Army Corps of Engineers said.

The protest lasted about 3 1/2 hours before crews went back to work. There is more than seven million cubic yards of debris to be picked up in Hancock County.

by Al Showers