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.

Thursday, June 29

Katrina Fraud-Fighting Unit Established

State Auditor Phil Bryant along with Gov. Haley Barbour has unveiled the formation of the Katrina Fraud Prevention and Detection Unit. This unit, under the control and direction of the Office of State Auditor (OSA), is charged with investigating reported instances of fraud identified in the application and verification process of the Homeowners Assistance Program, a grant awards program provided by Department of Housing and Urban Development. The unit is also charged with investigating suspected fraud related to residential rebuilding efforts in general within the Katrina disaster area of the three coastal counties and Pearl River County.

Through a Community Development Block Grant administered by the Mississippi Development Authority, the OSA has been allocated more than $1.9 million from June 1, 2006, through May 31, 2008, to establish this unit, setting up an office and establishing a toll-free number to report possible fraud and air concerns. The main office will be located in Hattiesburg.

Bryant said, "We are looking forward to putting this new fraud prevention and detection unit in operation. Special agents of the Auditor's Office will be assigned to the Transitional Recovery Office in Biloxi and the branch office in Hattiesburg. Their sole responsibility will be to respond to the fraud that will surely occur with the billions of tax dollars introduced into the homebuilders market. We will work closely with the Mississippi homebuilders and contractors associations, as well as various law enforcement agencies and prosecutors."

Wednesday, June 21

USDA Postpones Sign-Up for Emergency Forestry Conservation Reserve Program

USDA Farm Service Agency Administrator (FSA) Teresa Lasseter today announced that USDA is postponing the Emergency Forestry Conservation Reserve Program (EFCRP) sign-up, originally scheduled to begin June 19, 2006.

“The supplemental appropriations bill passed yesterday changes the terms of the Emergency Forestry Conservation Reserve Program,” said Lasseter. “USDA will postpone the originally scheduled sign-up in order to provide further information to applicants on how these changes may impact their applications. New sign-up dates will be announced in the near future.”

The measure passed yesterday, H.R. 4939, alters EFCRP, which will help landowners and operators restore and replant forestland damaged by the 2005 calendar year hurricanes. Trees planted through EFCRP will help reduce flood effects, protect water sources, decrease soil erosion and improve wildlife habitat. EFCRP funding was authorized by the Department of Defense, Emergency Supplemental Appropriations to Address Hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, and Pandemic Influenza Act, 2006 (Pub. L. 109-148), and signed by President Bush on Dec. 30, 2005.

To be eligible for EFCRP assistance, an owner or operator must have experienced at least a 35 percent loss to merchantable timber on private non-industrial forestland due to one of the calendar year 2005 hurricanes.

The tree loss must have occurred in one of the 261 counties receiving presidential or secretarial primary disaster designations caused by 2005 Hurricanes Dennis, Katrina, Ophelia, Rita or Wilma. Loss assistance is unavailable in contiguous counties. A complete list of eligible counties in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and Texas is available online at:

After incorporating the changes from the new legislation, a sign-up will be announced and producers may be able to submit offers of land for enrollment in the EFCRP to local FSA offices. FSA intends to rank offers based on potential contribution for preventing soil erosion, improving water quality, restoring wildlife habitat and mitigating economic loss.

More information on EFCRP is available at local FSA offices and online at:

Wednesday, June 14

MS Development Authority Releases Housing Action Plan

The Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) has published its Public Housing Program Action Plan. The plan details the process and procedures for the administration of funds available to the five Mississippi Gulf Coast housing authorities in Jackson, Hancock and Harrison counties that suffered damage as a result of Hurricane Katrina.

MDA has posted its plan for administering the public housing program at The public is invited to make comments and suggestions during a roughly one-week comment period ending June 18, 2006.

During the comment period, MDA will compile and evaluate the submissions, make any necessary adjustments to the action plan and submit it to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for final approval.

Tuesday, June 6

Emergency Forestry Conservation Reserve Program

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns announced that sign-up for the $404 million Emergency Forestry Conservation Reserve Program (EFCRP) will start June 19. The program helps landowners and operators restore and replant forestland damaged by the hurricanes that occurred in 2005.

"Emergency Forestry CRP is one of many USDA programs helping hurricane victims rebuild their farming operations and their communities," said Johanns. "By planting trees, landowners and operators can improve the ability of at-risk land to withstand future storms."

Trees planted through EFCRP help reduce flood effects, protect water sources, decrease soil erosion and improve wildlife habitat. On Dec. 30, 2005, President Bush signed the 2006 Defense Appropriations Act, which provides $900 million to address natural disaster damages from 2005 hurricanes and authorizes EFCRP. Of these funds, approximately $400 million is designated for the Emergency Forestry Conservation Reserve Program, $200 million for the Emergency Conservation Program and $300 million for the Emergency Watershed Protection Program.
To be eligible for EFCRP, a producer must have experienced at least a 35% loss to merchantable timber on private non-industrial forestland. The loss must relate directly with one of the calendar year 2005 hurricanes.

Tree loss must have occurred in one of the 261 counties receiving presidential or secretarial primary disaster designations caused by 2005 Hurricanes Dennis, Katrina, Ophelia, Rita or Wilma. Loss assistance is not available in contiguous counties.

Local Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices will accept land enrollment offers from producers starting June 19 through Oct. 20, 2006. FSA will rank land offers based on potential to prevent soil erosion, improve water quality, restore wildlife habitat, and mitigate economic loss caused by hurricanes. Those rankings will be based on evaluations performed by foresters. The sign-up is divided into three selection periods for top-ranked offers: June 19 through July 28; July 31 through Sept. 1; and Sept. 5 through Oct. 20. Eligible land offers not selected during the first or second period will roll-over to subsequent selection period(s). All EFCRP contracts must have approval by Dec. 31, 2006.

After offer evaluation and acceptance, a forester will work with the landowner to develop a conservation plan. Enrolled land will remain under contract for 10 years. EFCRP participants will receive 50 percent cost-share assistance and a lump sum rental payment or 10 annual rental payments. EFCRP participants may not harvest standing timber from enrolled land during the term of the contract period, except as may be permitted by FSA as part of the normal maintenance of forest land.

Acreage enrolled in EFCRP does not count toward the per-county number of acres eligible for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and CRP's maximum acreage enrollment authority.

A Map Showing The Counties Declared Presidential And Secretarial Disaster Areas For 2005 Hurricanes

Conservation Reserve Program—Emergency Forestry

Effective Date: June 1, 2006.

Section 107 the 2006 Act amended the Food Security Act of 1985 (16 U.S.C. 3831), which provides statutory authority for the CRP, to provide for the Emergency Forestry Conservation Reserve Program (EFCRP) to enroll in the CRP private non-industrial forest land that experienced a loss of 35% or more of merchantable timber in the States suffering forestry damage directly related to hurricanes Katrina, Ophelia, Rita, Dennis, and Wilma.

The CRP is the Nation’s largest private lands conservation program. Compared to the broader CRP which targets certain cropland and marginal pastureland, the EFCRP is designed to focus on the restoration of private non-industrial forest land damaged by 2005 hurricanes.
The 2006 Act also authorized an additional factor for EFCRP, mitigation of economic loss.

For purposes of eligibility, this new program is available in counties with a Presidential-or Secretarial-declared primary disaster designation due to hurricanes during the 2005 calendar year. The eligible owners and operators may enroll applicable private nonindustrial forest land in the new EFCRP during calendar year 2006. Private nonindustrial forest land, for purposes of EFCRP, means lands with existing tree cover that is owned by an individual, group, association, corporation, Indian tribe, or other private entity or a person who or entity who receives concurrence from the landowner for practice implementation.

Offers for enrollment may be made at local Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices through November 30, 2006. The 2006 Act requires that eligibility for enrollment is limited to owners and operators of private non-industrial forest land that have experienced a loss of 35% or more of merchantable timber in a county affected by hurricanes during the 2005 calendar year. All offers will be verified for eligibility. Merchantable timber is defined in the 2006 Act and in the regulations as timber on private non-industrial forest land on which the average tree has a trunk diameter of at least six inches measured at least four-and-one-half feet above the ground. Under EFCRP, contracts will be for 10 years and will become effective the first day of the month following the month of contract approval by the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC).

A conservation plan for forestry is a required component of an EFCRP contract and will include provisions for soil erosion, water quality, and wildlife habitat as well as provisions for site preparation and planting, to the maximum practicable, of native species or, if native species are not practicable, with similar species as existed prior to hurricane damage. EFCRP participants will agree to restore trees to the minimum silvicultural level established by the United States Forest Service for the purposes of the practice. As with all CRP contracts, no commercial use of the crop (timber) will be permitted during the contract period, but management activities customary with normal forestry practice such as pruning, thinning, and stand improvement will be permitted as specified in the conservation plan for the property. However, forestry maintenance such as pruning, thinning, and timber stand improvement, in accordance with a conservation plan and in exchange for an applicable reduction in the annual rental payment, as determined by the Deputy Administrator, is permitted. In determining which offers to accept, CCC will collect data on soil erosion, water quality, wildlife habitat, and mitigation of economic loss and, using a generally-applicable benefits index, CCC will determine the acceptability of all offers.

Click here to read all of the Ruling.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Kiley Barnes, Conservation and Environmental Programs Division, USDA/FSA/CEPD/STOP 0513, 1400 Independence Avenue SW., Washington, DC 20250–0513, Telephone (202) 720–8772; e-mail: Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication (Braille, large print, audio tape, etc.) should contact the USDA Target Center at (202) 720–2600 (voice and TDD).

MDOT Releases Coast Recovery Update

The following is a list of Gulf Coast Transportation Recovery efforts in which the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) was involved in during the week of May 29-June 2:

o MDOT officials plan to award the contract for the construction of the Biloxi Bay Bridge and approaches in Jackson and Harrison counties to the proposed project with the apparent best value June 6. The three responding firms are GC Construction of Kansas City; Granite Archer Western of Watsonville, Calif.; and, Yates/Hill of Philadelphia, Miss. The proposals will be evaluated and the selected firm will be announced later this month.

o A special Transportation Commission meeting will be held June 6 to make a recommendation for a design-build contract to be awarded for the Biloxi-Ocean Springs Bridge project.

o MDOT has established a call center to assist the public in a crisis situation. There will be several shifts of 20 people each to answer calls from the public regarding road conditions during emergency circumstances. The toll-free number for the traveling public will be 1-866-521-MDOT. This number will be activated only in the event of any natural disaster.

USDA Homeowner Assistance Available

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has made available funds to assist qualified homeowners who are behind on payments because of last year's hurricanes. Homeowners who have financed their homes through USDA Rural Development's Guaranteed Loan Program are eligible.

The new program is called the Mortgage Recovery Advance Program and will allow eligible borrowers to receive a one-time advance from their lender that is enough to make their past-due mortgage payments. Rural Development will reimburse the lender for eligible advances.

Only borrowers who do not currently have the ability to meet their normal monthly mortgage obligations due to a verifiable loss of income, or increase in living expenses due to the hurricanes, are eligible for consideration. No more than 12 months past-due installments, including delinquent principal, interest, real estate taxes and hazard insurance, can be advanced. Borrowers in need of assistance should work directly with their lender to arrange a suitable plan for catching up on their payments.

Section 502 Guaranteed Loans are made to qualifying low- and moderate-income families to purchase modest homes in rural areas. The loans are made by conventional lenders, such as banks and mortgage companies. Loans can be made for up to 100% of the appraised value of the property. Rural Development guarantees the loan made by the lender in case of default by the borrower

Monday, June 5

MDOT Releases Newest Evacuation Guide

The Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) has released the newest "Hurricane Evacuation Guide," and designated a new 800-number for crisis situations.

The new number, 1-866-521-MDOT (6368), will be activated only in the event of a natural disaster. Otherwise, (601) 359-7017 will still be the active number for roadway information.

The "Hurricane Evacuation Guide" features a detailed map of designated alternate routes should an evacuation be declared this hurricane season. This year's guide also includes contact information for road conditions for the Gulf Coast states, lodging, human and animal shelters as well as radio coverage maps.

The guide will be delivered to homes through newspaper circulation beginning June 11, and via MDOT facilities, city halls, chambers of commerce, libraries, welcome centers and area convention & visitor's bureaus after June 15.

Friday, June 2

Manufacturers Getting Federal Funds

A federal grant totaling $4.5 million has been awarded to assist manufacturers throughout the Gulf Coast region for their recovery and rebuilding from last year's hurricanes, according to Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.)

Of this grant, $2.2 million will fund a joint partnership between the Mississippi and Louisiana affiliates of the Manufacturing Extension Partnership.

The funding will be used to identify distressed manufacturers in the Gulf Coast area requiring immediate and critical attention. The initial focus will be on helping those manufacturers fill workforce shortages, and then helping firms deploy modern manufacturing methods so they may restart and recover their operations.

The MEP of Mississippi and Louisiana will jointly administer this program for the two-state region and share resources and capabilities. "This grant also provides the opportunity to transform and modernize manufacturers and their supply chains in the Gulf Coast region, which will have impact throughout Mississippi," said Dr. Jay Tice, director of MEP of Mississippi, which is a line of business of the Mississippi Technology Alliance in Jackson.

AirTran Airways Adding Coast Flights

AirTran Airways is adding additional nonstop service to Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport in response to the recovery and growth the area has seen since Hurricane Katrina battered the Gulf Coast last summer.

In an effort to encourage rebuilding of the Gulf Coast, the airline will restart nonstop service between Gulfport/Biloxi and Tampa, Fla., July 6, 2006. Additionally, the airline will restart nonstop service between Gulfport/Biloxi and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., August 29, 2006. When the new schedule takes effect, AirTran Airways will fly to three cities with nonstop service from Gulfport/Biloxi: Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and Atlanta.

"The residents of all the Gulf States affected by Hurricane Katrina have shown the rest of the country their mettle and dedication to rebuilding their communities and rising above the devastation of the storm," said Kevin Healy, AirTran Airways' vice president of planning. "AirTran Airways recognizes the growing demand for affordable air travel in the Gulf region and is honored to serve Gulfport/Biloxi travelers by offering increased service to the area."
Additionally, AirTran has continued its partnerships with local casinos, and the services will provide customers of the Beau Rivage, the new Grand Casino Biloxi and the Imperial Palace Hotel and Casino additional options for leisure travel.

"The addition of these two new flights and cities will bring total seats available to 114% of pre-Katrina levels, and restore air service to all nonstop markets we had before the storm," said Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport director Bruce Frallic.

Effective July 6, lights will leave Gulfport/Biloxi at 4:06 p.m., and arrive in Tampa at 6:30 p.m. Flights will in turn leave Tampa at 3:12 p.m., and arrive in Gulfport/Biloxi at 3:36 p.m.
Effective August 29, flights will depart Gulfport/Biloxi at 4:28 p.m., and arrive in Fort Lauderdale at7:49 p.m. Flights will depart Fort Lauderdale at 3:30 p.m., and arrive in Gulfport/Biloxi at 4:28 p.m.