Building repairs ranked by urgency
State lawmakers criticize list's order
Friday, February 03, 2006
By Jan Moller Capital bureau
BATON ROUGE -- Prisons outrank charity hospitals, and repairing the Superdome is more urgent than fixing university buildings, according to a list that ranks the state's priorities for repairing government property damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Advertisement
Despite complaints from some lawmakers, the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget unanimously approved the priority list, allowing the state to embark on what promises to be a multiyear effort to repair the hurricane damage.
State facilities manager Jerry Jones said the list will allow the state to tell the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which will shoulder the lion's share of the repair costs, which buildings should get their top attention.
"Now we will be in a position to push FEMA, rather than FEMA pushing us," Jones said.
About 1,300 state-owned structures, from hospitals and office buildings to security fences and maintenance yards, were damaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. State officials estimate that repairs will cost $1.8 billion, with only $300 million of that amount covered by insurance. The rest of the cost will be borne by FEMA, which will pay 90 percent, with the state responsible for 10 percent.
Lawmakers have set aside $141 million in federal block-grant financing to pay for the state's share of the repairs.
The priority list was developed by the state's Office of Facility Planning and Control, using a set of parameters approved by the budget panel last month. Buildings of cultural or symbolic significance come first, followed by those that house essential government functions such as police stations and mental hospitals.
But once the rankings were unveiled, several legislators questioned the state's priorities.
Sen. Edwin Murray, D-New Orleans, wondered why New Orleans schools weren't included on the list, since the state now manages the school district. Rep. Ernest Wooton, R-Belle Chasse, quizzed administration officials on why a laundry facility at a New Orleans apartment complex ranked ahead of repairing navigational locks in Plaquemines Parish.
And Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, asked why prisons were listed as such a high priority. "We've got colleges and universities behind correctional institutions," Fields said.
Jones said some projects in New Orleans were pushed down the list because they are located in a flood plain. He said the state is waiting for FEMA to unveil its latest flood maps, which will help determine what measures might be necessary to prevent future flood damage.
"Do we want to bring facilities that are at risk back before we bring back facilities that are not at risk?" Jones said.
Some buildings on the list might not get repaired at all. The federal government will pay to restore government buildings to their pre-storm condition, but won't pay for upgrades. "If you had a sorry facility before the storm, they will restore you back to your sorry facility," Jones said.
In the case of Charity Hospital, for example, there is broad consensus among administration officials that the building was in such disrepair before Katrina that it would make little sense to rebuild it as a hospital. The state could instead use the repair money toward building a new hospital.
"If I have anything to say about it, we're not going to rebuild Charity," Jones said.
It might be awhile before many of the repairs get under way, as FEMA must provide its own cost estimates on many of the buildings on the list before money becomes available.
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Jan Moller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (225) 342-5207