Audit says to take back $2 billion
FEMA rejects that fixes to pipes, sewers were tied to pre-Katrina failures
NEW ORLEANS — The Federal Emergency Management Agency should take back $2 billion dollars in grants approved to repair New Orleans sewers and water pipes damaged by Hurricane Katrina and to repair streets afterward, a federal audit says. FEMA rejected the finding.
The Department of Homeland Security inspector general’s office prepared the audit. It said the pipes were old and in bad condition before the storm, and the city didn’t have paperwork to prove the damage was disaster-related, news outlets reported.
FEMA has agreed with 100 of 103 audits from the Department of Homeland Security inspector general’s office, but this is one of the three exceptions, the agency said in a news release Wednesday.
“Throughout the audit process, agency staff provided detailed documentation,” it said.
The FEMA grants make up most of what the city has to begin work on an estimated $9 billion repair backlog, according to media reports.
However, the matter may not go any further unless the inspector general appeals to higher authorities in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, The New Orleans Advocate reported.
Teams from FEMA and the city “went over every mile of street in the city,” Cedric Grant, executive director of New Orleans’ Sewerage & Water Board, told The Advocate. He called it “the most comprehensive review of a road system for damage that FEMA has ever done.”
The audit “defies logic,” Zach Butterworth, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s executive counsel and federal lobbyist, told The Times-Picayune. “We’re just going to push back very strongly against this.”
“Regardless of its age, the New Orleans infrastructure was functioning to serve a population of 445,000 prior to Hurricane Katrina,” FEMA wrote in a response included with the inspector general’s report and quoted by WWLTV. “This infrastructure was damaged by Hurricane Katrina and FEMA appropriately limited the approved funding to Katrina-related disaster damage.”