Nelson blasts FEMA
Senator says officials slow to provide housing
November 6, 2004
Fort Myers News-Press
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson on Friday lambasted FEMA officials for not providing enough temporary housing in a timely manner for the hundreds of Hurricane Charley victims.
Standing in the living room of one of the 101 mobile homes already at a Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer park on Airport Road in Charlotte County, Nelson, D-Fla., demanded specifics.
What is the overall need for temporary housing in Charlotte, DeSoto and Hardee counties? he asked.
A team is now going door to door assessing that need in Charlotte County, said Ben Davis, FEMA strike team leader. "Many people are not registered."
So far, about 650 people have been placed in travel trailers or mobile homes in Charlotte County. The need is for 500 more units, said Dennis Kizziah, FEMA manager for the Port Charlotte Field Office.
The FEMA Trailer park on Airport Road will have 350 mobile homes, with the capacity to expand by an additional 450 homes, Kizziah said.
DeSoto has 2,344 people who qualify for temporary housing, but only 758 who have requested it, Kizziah said. So far, 341 have been supplied with travel trailers.
In Hardee County, 1,635 people qualify for temporary housing and 265 people have requested it. So far, 147 have been supplied with travel trailers, Kizziah said.
Hurricane Charley blasted through Charlotte, DeSoto and Hardee counties on Aug. 13, demolishing thousands of structures and leaving behind mountains of natural and man-made debris.
"The question that has to be asked, 90 days after the hurricane, is why are we only able to supply travel trailers and mobile homes to half the people who need them?" Nelson asked.
"I led the effort to get you $13.5 million. I want to bang down any door I need to to get what you need."
Nelson also wanted to know what mix-ups or miscommunications were holding up the process.
"We've got the (trailer) units," Kizziah said.
There were initial problems coordinating with local authorities and permitting issues, but everything has been smoothed out, Kizziah and Davis said.
"The problem we had was just finding a piece of property big enough" with a high enough elevation, said Joyce Ross, Charlotte County communications director, when asked about the permitting issues.
There was a definite rush to get the site done, but County Inspections Supervisor Tom Burns had to make sure any problems that came up were corrected, Ross said. "We had just little bumps in the road."
Nelson also slammed FEMA's reluctance to reimburse local governments for removing debris on private right-of-ways.
It's not FEMA's policy to pay for the removal, but that policy can be waived where the debris causes a public health or safety hazard.
Nelson said he knows this because he put the language in the Homeland Security Act of 2002 himself.
Earlier Friday, Nelson visited Windmill Village, a Charlotte County retirement community, and saw piles of hurricane debris still remaining on private right-of-ways.
The seniors who live there can't pay to have it removed, he said.
"I just want you to know how ridiculous this is," he told the FEMA officials.
In a case in Escambia County, the only way FEMA would reimburse the local government for removing the debris is if local officials cited homeowners first under the nuisance ordinance and even placed a lien on their property, Nelson said.
He sent a letter about the issue on Oct. 28 to Michael Brown, undersecretary of Homeland Security of Emergency Preparedness and Response, Nelson said.
"We just got to unsnag these bureaucratic snags," Nelson said. "You can let the pointy-headed managers up the chain of command hear what the reality is here."
None of the FEMA officials, spokespersons or congressional liaisons at the site would respond to the senator's remarks, deferring comment to FEMA staff in Orlando.
James McIntyre, FEMA spokesman in Orlando, said that because Nelson is a member of Congress and this is a congressional matter, Brown would be the first to respond to the senator's comments.