GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Governor Haley Barbour wants South Mississippi leaders to "step it up a notch" with the ongoing Katrina recovery.
The governor said he's not about to risk losing nearly $2 billion in unspent relief money. He said the remaining Katrina-related projects could create 18,000 jobs. And those jobs are sorely needed with a worsening recession.
Governor Haley Barbour told 176 community leaders while he's proud of the post-Katrina progress, "We all know that we've got to step it up a notch."
The governor said Katrina relief money is nearly as large as the amount the entire state will receive in the federal stimulus bill.
"Of the $2.8 billion that FEMA has allocated to us for rebuilding what was there, we've only spent 57 percent of it," said the governor.
He called on elected leaders to do all they can to ensure construction is underway on all such projects by the first of September.
"We will have been almost four years. And that $1.2 billion needs to start getting spent on the Mississippi Gulf Coast," said Governor Barbour, "I'm not going to ignore the risk that the state is going to have money taken back from us if we don't spent it."
Governor Barbour told the mayors and supervisors he recognizes the ongoing battles they've faced with FEMA in negotiating the specifics of project work sheets.
"We're going to start getting this money spent. And we're going to start getting things that are clogged up, cleared up," he said.
The governor used an example from the port to emphasize how projects can easily get tangled in the bureaucratic process. This one involved FEMA paying for freezers destroyed by the storm.
"Whether the cooling equipment inside a freezer is part of the freezer or if the freezer is the building and the cooling equipment is equipment," he told the group.
While the governor wasn't exactly harsh or critical to this audience of leaders, his message was clear and concise.
"These 18,000 jobs we need to get going this year. This year."