Gulf Coast Residents Clean Up, Move On From Ivan

Fri October 08, 2004 - Southeast Edition
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It’s been nearly one month since Hurricane Ivan slammed into Alabama’s Gulf Coast. Residents, with the help of local contractors, are picking up the debris and getting back into their normal routines.

But a number of issues remain: funding, unemployment and homeless residents. CEG compiled stories from throughout Alabama on the extensive recovery effort.

Riley Says ’Misunderstanding’in Getting 100 Percent Ivan Refund

MOBILE, AL (AP) Mayors of cities and towns in coastal Alabama counties who scrambled to get Hurricane Ivan cleanup contracts are now learning they may not get 100 percent federal reimbursement, as told by Gov. Bob Riley’s administration.

Riley said there was “a misunderstanding” that he is trying to work out with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The Mobile Register reported that the mayors were alerted to complete their hurricane debris removal contracts by midnight Sept. 19 in order to get 100 percent reimbursement through FEMA.

“I’m at home, it’s close to 10 o’clock, and I get a call from [Baldwin County Clerk-Treasurer] Locke Williams, and he has me and four or five other mayors on the line,” said Orange Beach Mayor Steve Russo. “He says, ’We got word from the governor’s office that any municipality that has a contract in place by midnight tonight, FEMA is going to cover 100 percent.’”

FEMA typically pays only 75 percent, with the state paying 10 percent and the local governments 15 percent, the Register said, but FEMA will pay 100 percent of the cost during the critical first 72 hours after a disaster, although not for weeks or months afterward. With Ivan officially designated a disaster at 12:01 a.m. Friday, Sept. 17, the deadline was midnight Sunday, Sept. 19.

“I was told that anything started within those three days would get 100 percent FEMA funding,” Riley told reporters after a speech to a civic group in Montgomery. He said FEMA officials are now saying that’s not the case.

“We are working with FEMA to work through this right now,” he said.

Mike Hall, the top FEMA official in Alabama, told the Register that he and another agency official met with Riley and state FEMA Director Bruce Baughman about debris removal. Baughman began saying FEMA would pay for months of debris cleanup if contracts were signed within the 72-hour period, Hall said.

“We were sitting with the governor and the director, and they wanted us to nod our heads that, yes, it was inclusive, and neither one of us did,” Hall said.

Debris removal is the most costly part of the hurricane recovery effort. A memo from Baughman to FEMA estimates the state will need to dispose of more than 10 million cubic yards of vegetative debris, such as limbs and leaves, and another 10 million cubic yards of construction debris. The Register said the estimated cost of debris removal could be $200 million to $300 million or more statewide.

Gulf Shores’ Sewer, Water Systems Could Take Months to Repair

GULF SHORES, AL (AP) Beachfront water and sewer systems damaged by Hurricane Ivan could take until mid-December or January to repair, a Gulf Shores utilities official said.

Cliff Johnson, general manager of the Gulf Shores Utilities Board, said residents on the beachfront should expect long delays before full service is restored.

“Our goal is to have the main part of the beach back on line in the middle part of December to early January,” Johnson said.

He said water service knocked out by Ivan on Sept. 16 will be restored to each area that regains sewer service. But the city is waiting until water and sewer services are restored to areas along the beach before allowing residents to move back into their homes, officials said.

The roadblock along Alabama 59 at Eighth Avenue in Gulf Shores will remain there until further notice, said City Administrator Tony Rivera.

Though residents, property owners and their contractors are allowed to access property south of the roadblock, no one can stay there overnight and an 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew remains in effect in the area, which encompasses about a fourth of the city.

Rivera said he expects the roadblock to soon be moved south, closer to the beach, but couldn’t say exactly when that might happen.

“As soon as we know that they’ve got water and sewer we’ll let them know,” said Greg Kennedy, a utilities board member who is also a Gulf Shores city councilman facing a runoff election for mayor. “I can’t imagine anybody would want to live in their homes without sewer and water.”

While the surfside sewer pipes are in rough shape, those on much of the north side of the beach highway are functioning, as are those throughout the rest of Gulf Shores, officials said.

In Orange Beach, the city-run sewer system is running well after a few breaks were repaired and power was restored to pump stations, said City Administrator Jeff Moon.

The utilities board agreed to hire an outside engineer to examine the system west of hard-hit Little Lagoon Pass, officials said.

“Some of the sewer lines are exposed, washed up, some of the lift stations are inundated with saltwater,” Kennedy said. “We don’t think the damage will be as bad east of the pass and we are assessing that.”

Gulf Park to Get New Facility, Replacing Storm-Damaged Hotel

MONTGOMERY, AL (AP) State officials were forced to move up plans to build a new $100 million convention center and hotel at Gulf State Park, when Hurricane Ivan destroyed the old facility.

“It was hit by a demolition crew called Ivan,” said Barnett Lawley, Alabama’s commissioner of conservation.

Lawley said the hurricane earlier this month has forced the state to speed up plans to seek a private developer to build the new convention center and hotel that would be partly managed by Auburn University’s department of hotel management.

The developer, most likely a major hotel company, would finance the construction as an investment.

He said the storm left the existing 30-year-old hotel “uninhabitable” and that it will have to be demolished. He said the new hotel facility will “be totally different and better.”

Lawley discussed plans for Gulf State Park during a news conference at the Gov.’s Mansion in which First Lady Patsy Riley unveiled a new brochure promoting Alabama’s 22 state parks. The brochure, features a picture of Gulf State Park on the cover, and includes information and pictures of all the state’s parks.

Lawley said the hurricane also destroyed one cabin and damaged others at Gulf State Park and blew away parts of the fishing pier.

Lawley said other parks in the state lost some shingles on buildings and some timber, but were mostly undamaged by the storm.

State to Assist in Cost of Tree Damage Cleanup

MONTGOMERY, AL (AP) Gov. Bob Riley said that a 24-member Alabama Forest Recovery Task Force would assist forest landowners in salvaging $700 million in tree damage caused by Hurricane Ivan.

 “The paper and forest products industry, the largest manufacturing industry in Alabama, was hit hard by Hurricane Ivan, particularly in the southern part of the state,” Riley said during a news conference at the State Capitol.

An Alabama Forestry Commission survey of the 12 counties area hit hardest by Ivan shows that 74 percent of damaged forestland belonged to family forest owners. Some counties affected include Baldwin, Covington and Mobile.

Riley said forest landowners will receive a fraction of what the damaged wood would have been worth if the storm had not occurred.

State Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks said that besides the $700 million in damages to the timber industry, the storm damaged another $150 million worth of Alabama crops.

State to Issue Special Burning Permits for Ivan Recovery

MONTGOMERY, AL (AP) Seventeen southwest Alabama counties, including Autauga and Wilcox, remain under a fire alert as the fall fire season begins.

The Alabama Forestry Commission will not issue outdoor burning permits to individuals in the counties under the alert. However, the commission will issue permits to recognized state, federal and local government agencies involved in removing debris from Hurricane Ivan.

The commission advises area residents to wait until the alert has been lifted before burning debris or to contact local authorities for approved burn site areas.

Feds Announce Grant to Help Unemployed

MOBILE, AL (AP) The U.S. Secretary of Labor has announced a $7.5 million federal grant that will provide temporary jobs to workers who lost their jobs as a result of Hurricane Ivan’s destruction.

Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao joined Governor Riley in Mobile to thank disaster relief volunteers and announce the grant, including an initial release of $2.5 million.

Chao said the grant will also be used to help restore and rebuild communities hurt by Ivan.

The fund will assist about 625 workers in 32 counties: Autauga, Baldwin, Bibb, Butler, Chilton, Choctaw, Clarke, Coffee, Conecuh, Coosa, Covington, Crenshaw, Dallas, Elmore, Escambia, Geneva, Greene, Hale, Jefferson, Lowndes, Marengo, Mobile, Monroe, Montgomery, Perry, Pickens, Shelby, Sumter, Talladega, Tuscaloosa, Washington and Wilcox.