Hurricane Damaged Sewers In Long Beach Still Clogged - - The News for South Mississippi

Hurricane Damaged Sewers In Long Beach Still Clogged

Billy Skellie looked at a map of his city. His finger quickly pointed to what he called Long Beach's biggest post Katrina headache -- six miles of beachfront property that got cut off from the city's water and sewer system.

"This has been very, very, very hard," the mayor said.

After the storm, Mayor Skellie received reports from his engineers and a team from Florida. Together, they determined the most efficient way to remove sand and debris from hurricane damaged pipes south of the railroad tracks. But the mayor said a recently approved $1.5 million contract to begin phase one of his city's infrastructure repairs got held up by FEMA.

"We run into a roadblock," Skellie said.

The roadblock had to do with the cost of the project. Skellie said all four phases of the repair project will end up costing about three million dollars. In January, FEMA obligated $1.5 million to Long Beach for those repairs. The mayor believes FEMA used outdated information to come up with its price quote.

"The cost is more than what had been estimated by the FEMA engineer in the beginning," he said.

FEMA had a different interpretation. It's spokesman Eugene Brezany said, "We provided the funding for this. It's been sitting there for eight months. It's up to the local agent to request payment."

The difference of opinion has created another delay for hurricane victims wanting to rebuild, but unable to because their properties have no water or sewer service.

"It's another kick to those people down there that's been waiting," said Long Beach Fire Chief George Bass.

Chief Bass is one of the city officials who's been working with MEMA and FEMA on the water and sewer problems.

"Just getting the folks back down there, getting some normalcy back down there, having the beachfront clean again, getting it back to what it was prior to August 29, is one of the big things for us," Bass said.

This latest hold up may have long term consequences. The mayor has been told several business that got wiped out by Katrina are interested in coming back to the southern tip of Long Beach. But they may not be willing to wait much longer for this infrastructure to be repaired.

"Gotta have them. I mean, you're dead in the water if you can't get water and sewer," he said.

The mayor is confident that something with FEMA will be worked out soon, so property owners near Highway 90 can start turning slabs into homes and businesses again.

by Brad Kessie

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