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New Orleans Seeks Contractor to Finish Demolition Duties

Mon October 22, 2007 - Southeast Edition

NEW ORLEANS (AP) The city is taking bids to demolish more than 1,800 hurricane-damaged properties, believed to be the last of those ruined by Katrina that are still standing but beyond repair.

The Army Corps of Engineers’ demolition responsibilities shifted to the city Sept. 29, though contractors stopped tearing down properties the city deemed health threats in August amid claims some houses were mistakenly demolished.

Residents waiting for federal rebuilding aid remain uneasy about the demolition program, and a lawsuit was filed this summer over the houses on the list to be torn down.

Some say the city has not outlined clearly enough the appeal process to get properties off the list.

The goal, according to the city’s proposal, is to have the properties on the list down by February, 2.5 years after Hurricane Katrina flooded 80 percent of New Orleans.

At the city’s direction, 4,235 properties have been demolished so far, said Tom Clarkson, a Corps spokesman.

Bids for the city-managed demolition contract close Oct. 30. Among the requirements: A city representative must be present at each demolition and nothing can be torn down without site-specific, city-written orders.

“We have to protect the rights of property owners; that’s the mayor’s first priority,” city spokeswoman Ceeon Quiett said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency estimates the work will cost at least $56 million — $43.8 million alone to demolish property, an average of more than $23,000 each for the more than 1,800 properties.

That’s in line with a previous Corps estimate of $20,000 to $30,000 but far above the cost of private demolition, which runs from $9,000 to $14,000.

The cash-strapped city will have to front the money to pay contractors first, then process paperwork through FEMA for reimbursement.

The city says it’s received just four claims that properties were mistakenly torn down. At least three homeowners have sued, among them Gwen Adams, whose Lower 9th Ward home was razed.

“We’re still trying to rebuild, but we’re moving very slowly at this point,” she said.

Sarah Lewis of Common Knowledge, a group that tracks targeted homes, said the demolition bid proposal isn’t explicit about preservation. She worries that architecturally significant homes or historic detailing could be lost.

City spokesman James Ross said properties will be assessed for historic significance.

Patricia Gay, executive director of the Preservation Resource Center, wants to work with the city on recycling historic building materials and to restore older, storm-damaged properties.

“We don’t want to lose what it is that makes our city special,” she said, “and you start with the architecture.”

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