88 percent of approved ROEs cleared; city seeking $159 million from FEMA

Here is the prepared text of Mayor A.J. Holloway’s remarks to the Biloxi Chamber of Commerce’s “Breakfast With the Mayor” gathering Tuesday, April 11, 2006, at the IP Casino Resort’s Crown Room.

Good morning, and thank you for being here this morning for Breakfast with the Mayor.
All of you are dealing with a great deal of things these days, but you’re still making time to attend meetings like this one. I appreciate your interest, and I also thank the chamber for putting this program together.

Today, I’m going to announce some new information regarding our progress on several important issues. And, as usual, I’ll save plenty of time to take questions.
Regarding the city’s storm debris removal efforts, I’m pleased to report to you that as of this morning, our teams have removed debris from 88 percent of the eligible parcels of private property in our city. In all, we’ve had about 3,000 property owners file ROEs to have their property cleared of debris. FEMA ruled that 2,600 of those 3,000 were eligible for us to clear, and of that 2,600, we’ve cleared 2,273 through April 7.
As of this morning, our crews have hauled more than 2.36 million cubic yards of debris, which is enough debris to cover a football field and stand more than 110 stories high.  The big question mark we face these days is when and if FEMA will give us the OK to haul off the remainder of the debris. We’re going to continue seeking that approval. 

Additionally, the City concluded its public hearing for clearing some of the City’s major drainage ways that were not covered as part of the FEMA effort. 
The Natural Resource Conservation Service, NRCS, will advertise these projects to help the City in its effort to clear the remaining debris.
Speaking of our work with FEMA, let me give you some insight on how the process works. In order for local governmental agencies to get FEMA money to rebuild things like city buildings, or public marinas or parks, or other public property, you have to fill out what is known as Project Worksheet or a PW for each project.
The city must fill out the PW to include such information as the name of the project, an assessment of the damage, and how much it will cost to return the facility to its pre-storm condition. FEMA then reviews each of the PWs and decides whether it’s approved and, if approved, sets aside the money.
As of today, the city of Biloxi has completed Project Worksheets covering a total of 137 projects ranging from as little as $2,500 to as high as more than $25 million. To give you an idea of the massive rebuilding we face on public facilities, those 137 requests come to a total of more than 159 million dollars. PWs for debris removal efforts alone total more than 40 million.

Once FEMA approves the PWs and sets aside the funds, we’ll have teams of engineers begin preparing the scope of work and the construction specifications so we can get these projects out to bid. Then the projects are awarded and construction begins.

I’m also pleased with the progress being made by the dozen subcommittees in the Reviving the Renaissance initiative. They’re meeting regularly to consider our options on things like Affordable Housing, Transportation, Land Use, and so forth. I appreciate the time and dedication that we’re seeing from the nearly 200 people who have signed to work on this important project.

There are not going to be any easy answers, but, we need to remember that we’ve been able to overcome many obstacles that came our way since Aug. 29 of last year.

The City Council, I believe, is going to be addressing one of the most difficult aspects of our recovery next week when councilmembers take up the new flood elevations. I think they’re scheduled to discuss the issue Tuesday morning in a special meeting.

I continue to be encouraged by the tangible signs of recovery we see everyday, whether it’s the strong gaming revenue figures we’re seeing, or the re-opening of many of our small businesses. We’ve made a great deal of progress in the past seven months, and that’s why I can stand before you today and say that we’re going to have a city that we can all be proud of.

We were making history in the decade before the storm, and today we stand ready and able to reach even greater success in Biloxi.
God bless all of you and God bless Biloxi.