Big check signals end of Katrina paperwork

Published 5:00 am Friday, August 7, 2009

Though the whipping winds and driving rain subsided almost fouryears ago, Hurricane Katrina has continued to spin daily within theannals of local government until Monday, when Lincoln Countyofficials finally and formally laid the great storm to rest.

That’s when Lincoln County Civil Defense Director Clifford Galeypresented supervisors with the final closeout list of federalreimbursements for preparation and emergency work done before,during and after the hurricane.

After a nearly four-year wait and stacks upon stacks ofpaperwork, several county agencies have finally been reimbursed tothe tune of $431,598.86. And Hurricane Katrina was officiallyover.

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“It’s done and over with and we don’t have to deal with itanymore,” Galey said Thursday. “About 95 percent of the days sinceKatrina, I’ve had to do something with it – even if it was just aphone call – every day. And when I have to deal with it, that meanssomebody else in the city or county has to deal with it, too.”

Reimbursements have been arriving in portions over the last twoand one-half years, with the final payment coming in June, Galeysaid. The money is delivered to local governments through thestate, and covers costs incurred for fuel usage, overtime pay,debris removal and repairs to flooded roads and wind-damagedstructures. He said the funds have already been dispersed to civildefense, the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department, the county’sgeneral fund, all eight volunteer fire departments and all fivesupervisors’ districts.

Galey said the reimbursement process has presented countyofficials with somewhat of a headache over the years because ofconfusion over documentation of debris removal on federally fundedroads. The magnitude of the damage and the number of reimbursementclaims in several states also contributed to the slow process, hesaid.

“The question for almost every entity in the state ofMississippi that applied for reimbursement was that anything thathas federal dollars put into it has to be a separate project,”Galey said. “There was some concern statewide about how that debriswas cleared up and who cleaned up each road.”

Immediately after the storm, Galey said 75 percent of all roadsin Brookhaven and Lincoln County were blocked by fallen trees andother debris. And with several agencies working overtime to reopenthe roads and clear the debris, it took time to sort out the workand draw up separate project worksheets for State Aid and otherfederally funded roads.

The confusion did, however, turn into a learning experience.

Galey said he and emergency officials statewide have developed anew, streamlined form for keeping up with work done during declareddisasters that makes it easier for workers to log jobs, personnelresponding, hours worked and machinery used. The condensedpaperwork paid off during Hurricane Gustav in 2008, he said, whenofficials were better able to document their projects.

“They had a stack of paper that thick at first,” Galey said,measuring out a 2-inch gap with his thumb and forefinger. “And thatdoesn’t work. The better records we keep as we do the work, thebetter the documentation to get reimbursed.”

Galey said it feels good to finally be relieved of the Katrinapaperwork, but he’s not entirely out of the eye of the storm justyet.

“If you look at that table behind you,” he said, pointing to asmall table cluttered with stacks of papers and envelopes. “Theresits Gustav.”