- Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, told local officials that unless a spill is determined intentional or negligent, fines will not be assessed.
- During the 90-minute session, county supervisors repeatedly mentioned an inability to get straight answers from federal authorities, particularly on debris removal issues.
- "If we can improve the flow of monies, then certainly that would be better. As we all know that stream of money, from Federal Emergency Management Agency to Mississippi Emergency Management Agency then to reimburse us, that continues to be a bit of a nightmare and it is placing us all in a significantly restrictive financial capacity for what we are trying to accomplish,"
PASCAGOULA -- When Hurricane Katrina hit Jackson County on Aug. 29, it left Moss Point's lift stations battered. The city's inability to have total repairs in place has caused Mayor Xavier Bishop concern that an unavoidable spill could mean major fines for Moss Point.
Bishop was able to relax just a little Tuesday.
Phil Bass, head of the Office of Pollution Control for the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, told local officials that unless a spill is determined intentional or negligent, fines will not be assessed.
Jimmy Palmer, regional administrator of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 4, arranged the session to help local leaders find ways to resolve issues that are slowing the storm recovery process.
Palmer also told the group several industrial sites along the Gulf Coast -- including Rohm and Haas, Bayou Casotte, Fort Bienville and Dupont DeLisle -- have been tested for storm-related contaminants.
"So far, we've not found any evidence of any problem caused by Katrina," he said.
During the 90-minute session, county supervisors repeatedly mentioned an inability to get straight answers from federal authorities, particularly on debris removal issues.
"I think the most frustrating part has been the fact it's very difficult at times to nail down procedures," said Supervisor Manly Barton.
Barton said Hurricane Katrina has brought on a different level of response and anxiety.
When a personnel change is made, policy and procedure appear to change too, he said.
"What we got to do is to deal with a host of regulations that are out there that govern various things. One problem that you know very well is the asbestos issue," Palmer said.
Supervisor John McKay said the first four months after the storm, the county was able to knock down structures without problems. When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was replaced by a private debris contractor, more stringent requirements were put in place.
"Now, starting the fifth month, we have to have our contractor out there with a water hose wetting it down, in case we have asbestos in a building. We're not given enough inspectors to go out and inspect it, which would alleviate the problem of having to haul it to a different landfill. So the relaxed regulation now is to just assume it's there and take it to a middle-class landfill, not a hazardous waste (landfill), which costs the government a whole lot more money," McKay said.
Palmer said key to removal of a structure is it must be deemed "unsound and in danger of imminent collapse."
"Things get tricky though when there is building that's still structurally sound," he said.
Supervisor Frank Leach said after the storm, local governments were ill-prepared to deal with wastewater issues.
"Every lift station across this Coast, literally, being out of commission because they went under water. All those electronics and pumps became a nightmare. We were searching diligently for the right type of equipment," he said.
Trying to get small items, such as chlorine tables, was practically impossible, he said.
There is a need for a preventive plan or a way to have spare parts at one's disposal, he said.
Leach also told Palmer finances have become a roadblock to recovery.
"If we can improve the flow of monies, then certainly that would be better. As we all know that stream of money, from Federal Emergency Management Agency to Mississippi Emergency Management Agency then to reimburse us, that continues to be a bit of a nightmare and it is placing us all in a significantly restrictive financial capacity for what we are trying to accomplish," Leach said.
Bass said his agency also wants the recovery process to pick up speed.
"By the same token, we've got to be sure that proper procedures are being followed keeping the dust down and when it's disposed of, you're not putting it somewhere where 10 or 15 years later it's going to cause a bigger problem than it's causing today. We recognize too, with only three solid waste landfills in the six coastal counties, that those aren't going to be logistically located to handle this. So we looked at upgrades to Class 1 facilities and we are doing that with everyone that will apply and agrees to keep up with paperwork and special coverings," Bass said.
Bass said mechanisms are in place to accommodate as quick and inexpensive removal as possible.
Palmer said during the storm, a humanitarian effort took effect.
With five months post-Katrina and more auditing being done, Palmer said federal authorities are reticent because they know they are being monitored.
"It has taken a tremendous effort to just get basic utilities back up and going and we're very fortunate that we've gotten there now," Palmer said.
"Now we're shifting into the issues of continuing to clean up the mess, clean up debris. For months, we just tried to get the roads open so we could move ourselves around. Now we are moving into the difficult phase of just cleaning up the rubble and then taking down buildings that have got to come down. That presents a whole new set of issues," Palmer said.
Pascagoula officials sought an extension of deadlines for stormwater improvements and debris removal.
"They are stopped up and we're fixing to get into rainy season," said David Groves of Ocean Springs.
Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran asked why an environmental study would take two years if a drawbridge is selected to replace the existing damaged Biloxi Bay bridge.
Palmer said he will research the issue.
Reporter Natalie Chambers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (228) 934-1429.