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Residents sound of on rebuilding effort

Infrastructure assistance, improved communications and passageof federal aid legislation emerged Monday as top priorities as arealeaders and residents discussed Hurricane Katrina recovery andrebuilding efforts.

To give area residents an opportunity for input, the Governor’sCommission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal held a public forumMonday evening in the Brookhaven High School auditorium. The goalof the recovery effort is to revive Mississippi and make livesbetter.

“There’s always a silver lining behind any cloud we encounter,”said Natchez Mayor Phillip West, chairman of the commission’ssouthwest Mississippi committee.

Henry Barbour, the commission’s executive director, discussed keysto the renewal. Those included federal legislation that wouldallocate $25 billion to Mississippi over the next two years, thecommission’s plan and private capital investment.

Several times during the meeting, Barbour stressed the importanceon congressional action on the aid package. He feared it would beforgotten after the Christmas break.

“Congress cannot leave this year without dealing with this issue,”Barbour said, adding that the next two to three weeks will becritical.

Barbour said he was more optimistic now than he was a few weeksago. He applauded the state’s congressional delegation for itsefforts on behalf of Mississippi as well as Louisiana.

Meeting participants also viewed a presentation on the state’srecovery and rebuilding efforts, particularly on the coast.

Bob Allen, attorney for the Lincoln County Board of Supervisors,questioned plans for southwest Mississippi and how localgovernments would replace roads and bridges damaged in thestorm.

Barbour said the federal legislation would be useful in thatregard. He said there are many losses in inland counties.

“This was not just a bad thing that happened on the coast,” Barboursaid. “This is statewide.”

Barbour cautioned, however, it is difficult to look past thedevastation that happened on the coast.

Mayor Bob Massengill said no one in this area was expecting thesame level of assistance as the coast. However, citing Brookhaven’sneed for help with new generators for water pumps and liftstations, the mayor said the storm helped identify areas of need inall communities.

Lincoln County Civil Defense Director Clifford Galey agreed. Hementioned generator concerns for rural water associations.

“They are in such a strapped shape for funds,” Galey said.

Marshand Crisler, president of the Jackson City Council,acknowledged differences in damage on the coast and elsewhere.

“Our issues pale in comparison to what happened on the coast,”Crisler said, also mentioning infrastructure and a need for bettercommunication among citizens and communities. “We’ve got to startreaching out to one another.”

Crystal Springs Mayor Arthur Evans said the town lost its waterwells and sewer service during the storm.

“We are in dire need of infrastructure to keep things going,” hesaid.

Echoing comments from several others, Lincoln County SupervisorsPresident Bobby J. Watts said there was “amazing” support fromchurches and other agencies following the storm. He said thehurricane taught everyone a lesson for the future.

“I think we ought to be better prepared for emergencies from nowon,” Watts said.

West added concerns about federal reimbursement rates for cleanupby city and county employees, which are not as much as those forcontractors. He said communities should not be “punished” for beingefficient in responding to emergencies.

Fuel was a concern for others at Monday’s meeting. Becky Currie, ofGilbert’s Home Health, pointed out difficulties in getting fuel forgenerators in remote homes of patients on life-sustainingequipment.

“We didn’t get much help with that,” Currie said.

Currie also alluded to fraud involving assistance from the RedCross and FEMA.

“I’ve never seen such abuse to two organizations in my life,” shesaid.

While mentioning misinformation and confusion over the assistance,Crisler said the fraud was unfortunate.

“We do need to put in some control measures in the future,” Crislersaid.

Galey said another measure that would improve emergencypreparedness would be to remove FEMA from under the umbrella ofHomeland Security. The emergency response agency was placed underHomeland Security following the Sept. 11, 2001, terroristattacks.

“The focus now is more on homeland security that it is on anall-hazards approach,” Galey said.