LAKE CHARLES, LA (AP) Almost twice as many demolition permits have been issued this year in this city as in all of 2005 — 160 so far and officials believe that number will go even higher as hurricane-related insurance claims are resolved.
“Traditionally we average around 80-85 a year. We’re twice that now, and we’re only seven months into the year,” said John Cardone, city administrator. “It’s exceptionally high.”
The city issued 90 demolition permits last year. Of the 160 permits issued this year, 151 were for structures damaged by Hurricane Rita.
The demolition process, which involves a lengthy trail of paperwork, can take months.
A building must be reported to the city as hazardous or derelict. The city then inspects the building and files a report with the City Council, which officially condemns the building and orders it torn down.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), whose debris-cleanup efforts include razing storm-damaged structures, is filing for a number of demolition permits in Lake Charles.
“Under the public assistance program, we can fund the demolition of structures rendered unsafe by the storm,” said Barb Sturner, a spokesperson of FEMA. “The local government has to determine that it is structurally unsafe and posing a threat to the public. Then we go see if they are unsafe.”
FEMA also assesses a property’s historical, environmental and archaeological value to determine if a structure warrants restoration. After those steps have been taken and all paperwork is filed, a city contractor or the Army Corps of Engineers, working under FEMA, will tear down the structure.
Under the Disaster Relief Fund passed by Congress, FEMA reimburses 90 percent of the demolition and debris-removal costs. City officials must file paperwork to allow FEMA to assess the property to be properly reimbursed.
Officials make every effort to contact property owners before they order a building demolished, but they believe it is important to tear down structures that pose a risk to the public.
“We want to make sure individual rights are protected by law, and the process and procedure are correctly done,” Sturner said. “These are people’s homes, and we recognize the importance of that. That’s why there are a lot of checks and balances along the way.”
Immediately after Hurricane Rita, the city processed few permits. But the number rose in January when major cleanup work was largely completed and hazardous structures were reported.
“We weren’t going out there making people do stuff. We gave them a chance to pick up on their own after the storm,” said Tom Landry, inspections supervisor for the city.
Officials and contractors expect the number of demolitions — especially of commercial buildings — to increase as the FEMA permits are processed.