Mayor unveils storm initiatives to chamber audience

Mayor A.J. Holloway told a Biloxi Chamber audience this morning that he plans to approach the City Council with a handful of storm-preparation requests, including buying a $10 million business-interruption insurance policy to help the city recover from  major storms.

Holloway, speaking to an audience of about 50 people at the Margaret Sherry Library, announced that he’ll also ask the council for approval to seek bids to hire a debris-removal contractor who would be on standby throughout the hurricane season to help remove debris immediately after a storm. The mayor has already obtained the council’s OK for an ordinance that would position FEMA to reimburse the city for any overtime pay for essential city workers before, during and after storms.

“Tropical Storm Arlene was a good storm-preparation drill,” Holloway said, noting that the city used the storm threat as a chance to re-test equipment in the city’s Emergency Operations Center on Veterans Avenue. “We can’t be complacent, and all of us must continue to do what we can to be prepared. We’ve been researching several things to help in that regard, and I hope that the City Council agrees that they are the right things to do.”

Business-interruption insurance would help the city replace any casino-gaming tax revenue that would be lost should a storm force casinos to close for an exctended periiod. The city’s nine casinos currently pay nearly $20 million a year in gaming taxes to the city, a third of the city’s annual operating revenue.

Holloway plans to propose a $10 million policy, which would provide a six-month cushion, and may cost about $100,000 a year.

Said the mayor: “We’re confident that the casinos would be up and running before that six months runs out. We’ve spoken to Orange Beach, Ala. where they’ve had this type of coverage for several years. In the first claim they made after Hurricane Ivan, they recaptured all of the annual premiums they’d paid.”

The debris-removal contract Holloway proposed would call for the city to have a contractor in place before a storm threatens. “Under FEMA’s regulations, we could have this contractor on the ground, clearing debris for the first 70 hours after a storm,” he said. “That would give us time to draft and advertise a more complete contract that would be based on the damage we sustain.”

Having the contactor in place in advance has two benefits, Holloway said: “It will put us in a better position to more quickly respond in the aftermath of a storm, and it will allow us to choose a contactor now, instead of waiting until after the storm, when we’d be competing with other local cities and counties, when the demand for contractors is high, and, as a result, the prices are higher, too.”