Hurricane Katrina Forest Recovery

As we work together to tackle the historic challenge that Hurricane Katrina has presented to the forestry communities of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama, we hope that this blog will be a valuable resource and tool.

Wednesday, January 31

MHC Makes Available MRB Funds

The Mississippi Home Corporation (MHC) has opened the reservation lines for its $50-million 2007A issue, and funds are available to qualified applicants through participating lenders.
The 2007A issue includes a pool of funds available to those purchasing homes in Jackson, Harrison, Hancock, Pearl River, Stone and George counties and to homebuyers directly affected by Hurricane Katrina. The mortgages will carry an interest rate of 5.7%.

Dianne Bolen, MHC executive director, said, "This special rate, coupled with the program's 3% cash advance, will help the Gulf Coast recovery process by significantly lowering the costs of owning a home."

The remaining bonds in the 2007A issue will fund 30-year mortgages at a fixed rate of 5.9% statewide. The program includes a cash advance of 3% of the loan amount to assist homebuyers in paying for downpayment and closing costs.

Since January 1, 2006, MHC's Mortgage Revenue Bond (MRB) program has provided funds for nearly 2,700 loans totaling $300 million. For more information on the MRB program, call (601) 718-4636, or visit


Thursday, January 25

10,000 Katrina Grants Delivered in Mississippi

Mississippi has delivered more than 10,000 grants under a program to help homeowners along the Mississippi Gulf Coast recover and rebuild from Hurricane Katrina, Gov. Haley Barbour announced Wednesday.

"This is a milestone," Barbour said. "It means that approximately 75 percent of south Mississippi families who qualified under Phase I of our Homeowner Assistance Grant Program have received their checks, and this will help them get on with their lives."

As of Wednesday, 10,002 families had received grants.

In total, closing packets have been sent to 13,207 households, and program administrators expect that about 14,000 homeowners will qualify under Phase I.

Phase II, which is targeted to low- and moderate-income homeowners regardless of insurance or flood zone status, was approved by HUD shortly before Christmas. Grant notification packets to eligible applicants will be distributed in the first quarter of this year.

Homeowner Grant Program Delivers 10,000th Check

FEMA Issues Hurricane Recovery Grants

Federal funding totaling more than $32 million has been awarded for Hurricane Katrina recovery costs.

The grants, administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), are awarded to the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), City of Biloxi, City of Waveland, Jackson County, St. Stanislaus College Preparatory School and Pearl River Community College for the costs associated with hurricane recovery.

The awards are:

o MEMA (approximately $18.4 million) -- MEMA requested and received emergency management assistance personnel, equipment, and materials from other states in order to save lives, protect public health and safety, and to prevent further damage to improved public and private property. A total of 247 mission requests were made to the State of Florida for which Florida will bill the State of Mississippi. This approximately $18.4 million along with $15 million previously provided on version one, represents funding for the labor, equipment and material expenses for 18 mission requests to the State of Florida. The amount also covers the costs associated with transporting and storing these items.

o City of Waveland (approximately $5.3 million) -- This funding is to make permanent repairs to the roads damaged by the sewer line replacement south of the railroad tracks in the City of Waveland. These repairs are identified at 83 separate locations and include replacing approximately 24.46 miles of roadway surfaces consisting of both concrete and asphalt. These surfaces were damaged during the utility work primarily because replacement of sewer lines involved digging trenches through the road surface to access the sewer lines.

o City of Biloxi (approximately $2.8 million -- Katrina fractured piles and broke apart the Old Highway 90 Fishing Pier, requiring complete removal. The pier served as the Biloxi side of the former U.S. 90 bridge from Biloxi to Ocean Springs built in 1930, and was converted into a fishing pier when the new bridge was constructed in the 1960s. This funding will serve to remove and dispose of all remnants of the damaged bridge located both above and below the water line. The total amount of debris to be removed and disposed of has been estimated at 16,302 cubic yards.

o Jackson County (approximately $2.6 million) -- Katrina destroyed the Ocean Springs Fishing Pier and its approach. This pier, located on the east side of the Biloxi Bay, extended out from Ocean Springs into the bay 2,196 feet. The pier was originally the Jackson County side of the U.S. 90 bridge between Ocean Springs and Biloxi. This section of bridge was turned over to Jackson County to be used as a fishing pier when a new bridge was constructed in the 1960s. This funding represents the estimated project cost to construct a new pre-cast concrete fishing pier 24.5 feet wide and 2,165 feet long. In addition, it provides for a turnaround at the pier's end for emergency vehicles and a new approach measuring 160 feet long and 30 feet wide.

o St. Stanislaus College Preparatory School (approximately $1.9 million) -- The St. Stanislaus College Preparatory Student Union Building suffered damage from Katrina. This two-story structure serves as a nonreligious education center for students from grades six through 12. This approximately $2.1 million is the estimated project amount, less insurance proceeds, to repair the Student Union Building to its pre-disaster condition. A hazard mitigation proposal of approximately $176,635 is also included to flood-proof the electrical and mechanical rooms to prevent future flood damage.

o Pearl River Community College (approximately $1.3 million) -- Among the buildings and infrastructure damaged by Katrina was the Marvin H. White Coliseum on the Poplarville campus. This grant is prepared to bring the coliseum to its pre-disaster design, capacity and function at a total estimated cost of approximately $1.5 million, less estimated insurance proceeds. -MBJ

Wednesday, January 24

State, Cities to Share $32 Million in FEMA Grants


The city of Biloxi has been awarded a $2.8 million grant for debris removal costs as part of a hurricane recovery package announced by Sens. Thad Cochran and Trent Lott on Tuesday.

About $32 million in FEMA grants has been awarded to the state as well as localities, including Biloxi, Waveland and Jackson County. Most of the money - about $18.4 million - will go to the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency to reimburse the state of Florida for providing labor, equipment and materials in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The money was approved by Congress in the months following the Aug. 29, 2005, storm.

"Our Gulf Coast communities remain in need of assistance, and funding to remove debris, rebuild infrastructure, and repair damaged buildings will continue to be valuable," Cochran said in a statement.

About $2.8 million has been awarded to Biloxi to pay for the removal of a destroyed Old Highway 90 Fishing Pier.

Jackson County will receive $2.6 million to rebuild the Ocean Springs Fishing Pier destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. The city of Waveland will receive $5.3 million to repair roads damaged by sewer line replacement south of the railroad tracks.

Other grants include $1.3 million to Pearl River Community College for building repairs and $1.9 million to St. Stanislaus College Preparatory School to repair damaged buildings.

Barbour Defends State's Share of Federal Money for Katrina Recovery


Mississippi's Republican governor, Haley Barbour, dismisses criticism from the Democratic governor of Louisiana about the role partisanship might've played in getting federal relief to the neighboring states since Hurricane Katrina. Barbour told The Associated Press that Mississippi made more reasonable requests for federal aid and is further along in distributing federally funded recovery grants to homeowners.

"Sounds to me like Congress is getting their money's worth in Mississippi," Barbour said.
He said Mississippi has issued 9,902 homeowner recovery grants out of about 17,000 applications. A Web site for the "Road Home" grant program in Louisiana says 101,657 applications have been submitted and 258 grants had been completed by Monday. Mississippi's grant program is only for Katrina recovery, while Louisiana's is for Katrina and Hurricane Rita.
Barbour did a brief interview with AP Tuesday, shortly before he spoke to a group of school superintendents in Jackson for a convention.

He said he put little credence in what Michael Brown, a former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said about party politics influencing federal decisions about the way Mississippi and Louisiana were treated after Katrina blew ashore on Aug. 29, 2005.
"His credibility has been worn pretty thin over the last couple of years _ at least that's what Congress said about him, Democrats in Congress said about him," Barbour said of Brown.
Brown, speaking at the Metropolitan College of New York last week, said he recommended to President Bush that all 90,000 square miles along the Gulf Coast affected by Katrina be federalized, but he said some White House officials didn't want to federalize Mississippi because it has a Republican governor.

"Unbeknownst to me, certain people in the White House were thinking, 'We had to federalize Louisiana because she's a white, female Democratic governor and we have a chance to rub her nose in it. We can't do it to Haley because Haley's a white male Republican governor. And we can't do a thing to him,'" Brown said in his speech. Brown wouldn't say who at the White House suggested the different treatment. The White House denied Brown's accusations.
In Baton Rouge, La., on Tuesday, Gov. Kathleen Blanco held a news conference at the Governor's Mansion and said Republican leaders in Washington have slowed aid to Louisiana and discriminated against its residents while giving Mississippi more money proportionately than its damage from Katrina and Hurricane Rita.

"Michael Brown has broken the code of silence about the political conspiracy to hurt the people of Louisiana," Blanco said. "Their target was me, obviously, but the real victims are the people of Louisiana." Barbour and Blanco are both seeking re-election this year. Blanco said "the Washington Republicans have consistently punished and discriminated against our people, all for partisan political purposes. A state with 80 percent of the storm damage from two hurricanes barely received 50 percent of federal relief funds."

Barbour said Louisiana asked for too much federal aid after Katrina. "When Louisiana asked the federal government to give them $250 billion just for Louisiana, we in Mississippi realized that we had to take a responsible, conservative, reasonable plan to Congress," Barbour said. "Our plan requested less than $35 billion, of which we were already entitled to half under the pre-existing law. We gave Congress a responsible plan and they have largely funded it," he said. "We have received about $25 billion, and we hope to receive the balance over the next two years."

Mississippi's senior U.S. senator, Republican Thad Cochran, was chairman of the Appropriations Committee when Katrina hit. He held the chairmanship until Democrats took control this month. Barbour was a high-profile Washington lobbyist before winning the governorship in 2003, and served as Republican National Committee chairman in the mid-1990s. He also built GOP connections by working as a political director in the Reagan White House for two years in the 1980s.

Blanco wants Congress to create a bipartisan commission to review the immediate and long-term federal response to Katrina and the follow-up blow of Hurricane Rita in September 2005. Barbour said he'd have no problem with the creation of a such a commission.
"Louisiana has gotten twice as much money as we have," Barbour said. "People will tell you Louisiana has simply tried to imitate what we did. Their homeowner grant program is based on our homeowner grant program. When we asked for community development block grant money, they asked for community development block grant money.

"When Congress gave us $5 billion of community development block grant money, they turned around and gave Louisiana more than $10 billion of community development block grant money to implement in Louisiana the program we had developed in Mississippi."

State Farm Settles with Policyholders

State Farm will participate in a court-supervised resolution process to reconsider and fully resolve claims from Hurricane Katrina in three Mississippi coastal counties. The process is part of an agreement reached through the settlement of a class action lawsuit against the insurer by families who believe their damage claims were not adequately resolved.

This agreement can affect some 35,000 Mississippi families, if approved by the U.S. District Court in Mississippi overseeing hurricane litigation. The agreement is the result of lengthy negotiations between State Farm, the largest property insurer in the state, and the Scruggs Katrina Group. U.S. District Judge L.T. Senter, Jr., who is presiding over hurricane litigation, has been asked to give preliminary approval to the settlement plan.

"This agreement can bring prompt and fair relief to residents of the three coastal counties who filed a claim with State Farm," said attorney Richard Scruggs of the Scruggs Katrina Group.
The process applies to State Farm policyholders, including homeowners, renters and owners of business properties, in Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties who experienced property damage as a result of Katrina. These policyholders will have an opportunity to have their cases reconsidered and receive speedy payment for losses under the court-supervised program.

If, after filing a settlement form and receiving an offer from State Farm under this resolution process, policyholders are not satisfied and reject the offer, they can request arbitration, which unlike mediation is binding and is not subject to appeal for both State Farm and the policyholder. Homeowners will have the opportunity to decide if they wish to participate in this class settlement.

Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss), a State Farm policyholder who suffered homeowner damage as a result of Katrina, said, "We've been waiting for a development like this. This is good for Mississippi and is so important to people along the Gulf Coast and in South Mississippi in getting on with their lives and rebuilding their homes."

"This is a big step in the right direction," said George Dale, Mississippi commissioner of insurance. "I'm pleased that this agreement will quickly put money into the hands of those along the Gulf Coast without lengthy litigation."

"Our goal has always been to resolve these matters quickly, fairly and efficiently," said Jeffrey W. Jackson, vice president-corporate general counsel, State Farm. "This settlement offers policyholders who resided in the areas most impacted by the unprecedented storm an opportunity to have their claims reviewed, share any additional information, and, if they choose, have their cases resolved through binding arbitration."

State Farm will initiate the resolution process by notifying all policyholders impacted by this agreement. Policyholders will have 60 days to register for participation in the process, which is designed to have participants paid before the end of this calendar year.

Scruggs and Don Barrett, an attorney who was also involved in the negotiations with State Farm, will serve as lead attorneys for the class action settlement. -MBJ

Monday, January 22

FEMA Expands Tree Guidelines


FEMA has decided to expand the area from which it will remove dead trees beyond the surge zone of Hurricane Katrina.

The federal agency will now remove dead trees on public rights of way in Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties. Trees on private property that "pose an immediate threat to improved property or limit access to emergency vehicles" may also be eligible, according to a letter Benjamin Watson, acting director of FEMA in Mississippi, wrote.

He was responding to a request from Thomas M. Womack, director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, that dead trees be removed in 10 southern counties. Watson decided to limit the request to the coastal counties.

Tree removal will be decided on a case-by-case basis following inspections to determine eligibility, said Brent McMahan, FEMA's lead public affairs officer.

FEMA had been limiting tree removal to areas deluged by Katrina's storm surge.

FEMA to Extend Housing Program to Aug. 31


FEMA has extended the temporary housing program by six months, Gov. Haley Barbour announced Friday.

Residents who are living in FEMA-supplied trailers now have until Aug. 31 to find permanent housing. The original deadline was Feb. 28.

FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security jointly notified the governor, who had asked for a year's extension in December.

"I am grateful the Bush administration has granted this necessary extension of the temporary housing program," Barbour said in a release to the media. "Even though the number of Mississippians relying on this program is reduced each month as housing is rebuilt, it is clear thousands of our citizens will be without permanent housing six months from now.

"I am confident the Bush administration will continue to work with state and local officials to address the need for temporary housing which will exist after this six-month extension."
Rep. Gene Taylor, D-4, agreed the extension was a good thing.

"Six months is a start," Taylor said. "If in four months a lot of people are still in the trailers, I will write another letter asking for another extension."

Taylor added that he continues to push for the trailers to be saved and stored at a place like Camp Shelby, for the next disaster.

About 92,000 trailers scattered across Mississippi and Louisiana are housing about 250,000 storm victims, based on FEMA's calculations. Mississippi had more than 43,000 at its peak in 2006. There currently are 30,141 trailers in the state, according to FEMA.

Trailers began arriving in mid-September 2005 and have been set up on private property, in FEMA parks and in private trailer parks.

An official announcement by the Department of Homeland Security is expected early next week.

HHS Earmarks Funds for Katrina Recovery

According to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Mike Leavitt, HHS is making available $175 million in grant funds to help hospitals and healthcare providers that are suffering economic pressure as a result of Hurricane Katrina.

These funds are being made available to the states of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi for acute care hospitals and skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) that face financial pressures as a result of changing wage rates that have not yet been reflected or adjusted for in Medicare payment methodologies.

Since Hurricane Katrina, providers in the Gulf Coast have experienced difficulty hiring and retaining staff," Leavitt said. "Changing wage rates have impacted healthcare providers' ability to attract potential workers. These grants will help hospitals and skilled nursing facilities respond to that pressure, and strengthen access to healthcare services in the Gulf Coast region."
Of the total amount, $160 million is available to acute care hospitals and SNFs in the three states. Based on each eligible hospital and SNF's share of total Medicare payments under a prospective payment system for inpatient care, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will allocate 45%, or $71.6 million, for Louisiana facilities; 38%, or $60.5 million, for Mississippi facilities; and, 17%, or $27.8 million for Alabama facilities. Funding is available to hospitals and SNFs in counties or parishes designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to receive both individual and public assistance. As part of the grant process, the three states must submit applications to CMS.

In addition, Leavitt established a $15-million grant for the State of Louisiana to use for the greater New Orleans area to help the region attract doctors and other healthcare providers. According to the Louisiana Health Care Redesign Collaborative, approximately 50% of the physicians who worked in the region before Katrina are no longer practicing there, leaving a shortage of doctors.

The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 provided funding for the restoration of healthcare in Hurricane Katrina impacted communities.

Thursday, January 18

Hurricane Katrina: Impacts on Different Pine Species and Implications for Landowners

Hurricane Katrina roared through Mississippi on August 29, 2005. In her path, some 1.2 million acres of forestland were damaged. About 2 years worth of annual timber harvest for Mississippi was blown down in one day, with the greatest damage occurring in southeast Mississippi. Hardwood bottomlands, pine sawtimber and recently thinned pine stands were most severely damaged.

Wednesday, January 10

State Sends Master Plan to HUD

According to Gov. Haley Barbour, a master plan to develop and enhance water and wastewater infrastructure in Mississippi's coastal region has been submitted for approval to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Under the plan, which was revised and expanded after additional needs were identified during a public comment period, $630 million in disaster recovery funds would be available to provide reliable water, sewer and storm water infrastructure.

"Tens of thousands of our citizens were without basic services when water and sewer systems in the Gulf Coast region were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina," Barbour said. "These systems must be improved and storm-proofed to ensure future hurricanes do not have the same devastating impact. We must also provide infrastructure for new development, which will occur as people move further inland."

Barbour said he expects HUD to approve the plan.
The request contains $25 million already approved to fund emergency projects. To date, applications have been received from Pearl River County requesting $2 million for water system in Poplarville, and Jackson County requesting $3.9 million for a decentralized waste treatment facility in Hurley.

Barbour and Mississippi's congressional delegation obtained appropriations of more than $5 billion through HUD to assist in hurricane recovery. Following a recommendation by the Governor's Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal, the Legislature created the Gulf Coast Region Utility Board and utility authorities in 2006.

Out of this money, the Mississippi Gulf Water and Wastewater Plan was prepared under a contract between the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and MS Engineering Group Inc. for improvements intended to support existing and future growth patterns, particularly as realized through new housing construction, and to promote economic development.

More than 300 projects were recommended. In order to be eligible, projects had to comply with HUD regulations, provide infrastructure in areas not served or underserved and be able to be implemented by 2010.

The public comment period also revealed that areas in Hancock County were "ultra-distressed" and had suffered too much loss to provide the distribution or collection systems to benefit from the regional "backbone" system. As a result of that finding, $47 million was added to the plan to provide systems in ultra-distressed areas.


Wednesday, December 20

Biloxi Council Cuts Red Tape For Residents Rebuilding

It's been 15 months since Katrina hit, and still, this Christmas some residents are not back in their homes.

"At this point in time, when you've had over 3,000 structures destroyed in East Biloxi alone, you don't need a lot of red tape to get people back into their homes. It's been 15 months. People need to get back in their home," said Ward 2 Councilman Bill Stallworth.

This is why East Biloxi councilmen Bill Stallworth and George Lawrence have pushed for an ordinance that will cut out a lot of the red tape for residents trying to build back. The Council voted unanimously in favor of that ordinance, effective immediately.

"Residents that lost their homes in Katrina will have the ability to come back in and, if they have a small lot, they can't quite get the house on it, they can come to the building department, meet with the planning people, get a recommendation from them, bring it to the city council. The city can approve that and basically cut the time by 90 percent," Councilman Stallworth said.

"Otherwise, you would have had to go through the planning commission. This way here you can go directly to Biloxi Community Development Center, sit down with them, adjust your house to the piece of property that you own now," Councilman Lawrence said.
But the ordinance will remain in effect only for a limited time.

"This particular ordinance will expire September 1, 2007," said Councilman Stallworth. "It's extremely important that people get their building permits and get under construction so that they can move back into their homes as quickly as possible."
Toni Miles

Katrina Quilt Raises $2000


Recovered fabric rescued from the wet Katrina sand and quilting supplies donated from around the country were pieced and sewn together to raise $2,000 for the Hancock County Library Foundation.

Members of the Bay Oaks Quilt Guild in Diamondhead came together with fabric and supplies from unexpected places and created a Katrina Quilt to raise money for the restoration of the county's damaged libraries.

Each block of the Katrina Quilt was pieced and quilted by the members of the quilting guild and represent the help the storm brought to South Mississippi. When the quilt was completed, it was quickly auctioned at a gala fundraiser held by the Dream One World organization in Santa Rosa, Calif.

After losing their meeting locations in Bay St. Louis to Katrina, the 30 members of the Bay Oaks Quilt Guild relocated to Diamondhead. During the storm, members lost their quilts, supplies and homes but those obstacles did not stop the determined women to pull together their resources and sew a unique creation to help the library system recover.

"We were able to get back to quilting because of the generosity of quilters from all over the country. We were sent fabric and supplies and we also used the recovered fabric that was rescued from the sand on the beach," said Gloria Burlette, a member of the Bay Oaks Quilt Guild.

To support the Hancock County Library System visit or call 467-5282.

Long Beach Clarifies Debris Removal Information

There was some confusion in the city of Long Beach Tuesday after a new debris deadline hit the news.

A debris contractor sent a news release to local media encouraging Long Beach residents to move debris to their curbs. But not everyone is eligible. Now city leaders want it straightened out.

When Long Beach city clerk Rebecca Schruff got to work Tuesday morning she was surprised by some of the phone calls she received.

"Some of the calls I have gotten today have been from people north of the track wanting to know about debris removal, and this is not going to cover that area at all," says Schruff.
The calls followed stories by WLOX and The Sun Herald newspaper telling everyone in Long Beach when and where to dump their storm debris for pick-up. Long Beach Mayor Billy Skellie says the contractor didn't have the information quite right.

"I think the contractor made it seem like it was everywhere, and it's not everywhere. It's those designated areas that were affected by storm surge and only those areas," says Mayor Skellie.
The mayor wants to clear up the confusion because he doesn't want trash scattered along the streets of Long Beach.

"The pickup area will be included in the area that saw the surge north of the tracks and near the canals. Canal 2, 3 and Canal 1, if it was affected by the storm surge. I think people will know exactly where that is," says Skellie.

Since there are different contractors for each job, city leaders in Long Beach want people to separate debris into three piles: One for concrete blocks, another for trees and a third pile for all other debris.

"It will be nowhere near the job it was before. It won't be as much, but this is the kind of thing where we do another little fine tune-up to try and cleanup," says Skellie.
Mayor Skellie says the deadline for people to get their trash to the curb is January 15. That will give contractors enough time to get everything picked up by their deadline of February 28, 2007.

Residents who still have questions about the debris pickup may call the Long Beach City Hall at (228) 863-1556.

by Elise Roberts