Texas Creating New Disaster Response Commission

Mon December 08, 2008 - West Edition
CEG




HOUSTON (AP) Gov. Rick Perry is forming a commission that will oversee coastal rebuilding efforts following Hurricane Ike and develop recommendations for responding to future storms.

At a news conference in Houston on Nov. 20, Perry also asked the Texas Department of Transportation to help finish removing tons of debris left behind when Ike struck the Southeast Texas coast in September.

The governor’s office said preliminary estimates from Ike and hurricanes Gustav and Dolly — which struck Texas within a period of two months this summer — is at $29.4 billion and likely to grow.

Perry will reiterate that Texas wants the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover all of the debris removal costs for the next 18 months or risk bankrupting the state’s hard-hit coastal communities. Without full coverage, FEMA pays 75 percent of the state’s estimated $2 billion cleanup and local governments pay 25 percent.

FEMA officials said no decision has been made on whether to extend the full coverage, which expired in October. And they don’t know when to expect an answer.

In a closed-door meeting with coastal county judges, Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff and his staff indicated Texas should dig into its own budget surplus to cover the coastal counties.

Amy Kudwa, a Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman, said she couldn’t comment on what went on in the agency’s conversation with Texas county officials.

Former Harris County Judge Robert Eckels will chair the Governor’s Commission for Disaster Recovery and Renewal, which Perry is creating by executive order to prepare a long-range plan for dealing with similar, future disasters.

“This is looking at how we can build a blueprint, so we are not reinventing the wheel after each disaster,” Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle said.

Castle said that the governor wants the task force to develop short-term housing options for people who lost their homes in Ike. State and local officials have complained that FEMA has been slow in providing mobile homes for those who lost their houses.

Perry plans to appoint representatives of the business community and foundations as well as governmental officials to the 31-member commission.

Castle said Perry will ask TxDOT to assist in debris removal, likely through private contractors, despite budgetary problems.

The state would seek reimbursement from the federal government.

Perry wants the new commission to submit a final report to him and the legislative leadership by June 30.