Debris Removal Extension A Big Deal For Coast

When you're Billy Skellie, and you're the mayor of a city that lost so many homes, and so much property tax revenue during Katrina, you celebrate small nuggets of encouraging news. He heard one of those nuggets on Tuesday's WLOX News at 10.

"I said dag, go boy," Skellie remembered.

The mayor's exuberant reaction came after the federal government decided to extend its debris removal deadline from March 15th to June 30th.

"It was exceptionally significant. It took a lot of pressure off. We might can really finish," he said.

Since the hurricane, FEMA has paid 100 percent of the clean up costs. The federal agency initially said that after March 15th, cities, counties and the state would pick up 10 percent of the remaining debris removal costs. Because of lingering budget concerns, Mayor Skellie wasn't sure how his city would have paid its share of the bill.

"We're a bedroom community with very few options about revenue. So obviously it's hurt us," he said.

So far, Long Beach has hauled off about 85 percent of its hurricane debris. The city wasn't going to be done cleaning properties by next week's deadline. So, the additional three and a half months granted by the federal government should give Long Beach enough time to completely clean up Katrina's mess.

"You want your town to come back," the mayor said. "This is my home. I'm a fourth generation. I feel compelled to do everything I can to make it as good as it can be without running people off and making it where they can't live here because it's too expensive."

Here are two other examples of why the debris removal extension is such a big deal. Jackson County has hauled off just more than half of the seven million cubic yards of hurricane junk in its unincorporated areas. And Hancock County reports that only 56 percent of its debris has been cleared in the six months since Katrina.

Neither county was going to meet next week's deadline.