LIVINGSTON – A battle between Livingston Parish government and the federal government continues over payment for repairs to roads damaged in the August 2016 flood – and no end is in sight.
The task to convince the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) to help with funds on some of those roads remains mired in stalemate, said Mark Harrell, director of the Livingston Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
A total of 393.7 miles of road sustained inundation damages from the 2016 flood. FEMA is obligated to help fund repairs on those roadways, he said. Repair of the roads will cost approximately $130 million, based on the work it would take per mile to rebuild them.
“We studied this through federal highway data, which says that at damage at fifty percent or greater, the strength of the road is lost to inundation,” he said.
Livingston Parish submitted FEMA a $60 million fund request, based off half the damages to the roadways, Harrell said.
He based the request off a scoring system on the roads he put together.
Inundation of the roads for a week or longer during the flood led to the deterioration. Assessments of the inundated roads indicated base and sub-base damage. Inundation causes strength of a road to decrease by 50 percent or more, Harrell said.
The struggle continues, however, for Harrell in efforts to approve project worksheets stemming from the flood. The reluctance by FEMA to repair the roads represents what he considers a contradiction on the agency’s purpose in disasters.
“I’m not an attorney, but I know FEMA is set up to pay us for damages from a disaster,” Harrell said. “But according to their regulations, they say they don’t pay for damage caused by inundation.
“As far as I’m concerned, that’s like saying they won’t replace a roof on a building that was destroyed or the elevator motor that was damaged in the flood,” he said.
FEMA is not Harrell’s main target of blame, however. He cites lawmakers on Capitol Hill, who have decided not to foot the bill for inundated roads.
“It’s fairly ridiculous, in my book,” Harrell said. “We have no choice but to fight this issue.”
Harrell recently spent a week with officials from FEMA, as well as officials from the state Department of Transportation and Development and the Federal Highway Administration to ride throughout the parish to examine roads which sustained flood damage in 2016.
“I told them this was their opportunity to write a project worksheet for visible damage, since they say they won’t pay for any damages they don’t see,” Harrell said.
The ride-through was required as part of the appeals process, Harrell said.
“We traveled all the roads and they did their documentation – just a “mark a check in the box” type of deal,” he said. “We’ve done that … now it’s back to more waiting.”
As the waiting process continues, so does the deterioration.
“When we have horizontal cracking down the pavement and literally zero debris in those cracks, that tells you it’s a fresh crack,” Harrell said.
The challenge will come in the attempt to prove the 2016 flooding caused the road damages, he said.
“Personally, I can’t prove it, but what I can do is go by the research and tests DOTD has done and what FHA has done, and for us to show that inundation caused the damages,” Harrell said.
He submitted the studies with the latest round of appeals, but it ultimately leads to another round of waiting games and no certainty how it will play out.
“We know we have roads that we had damaged, but we’re not claiming every road was 100 percent damaged,” Harrell said. “Some flooded, but we had new ones that deteriorated quickly.
“A new road that was inundated will fall apart,” he said. “If we just paid to put a new road to put in, we’re asking for more for that road than the ones fifteen years or older that have deterioration.”
The parish does not expect FEMA to pay for roads damaged before the flood, Harrell said.
“The newer the road, the more we ask for,” he said. “We’re trying to be fair and above board with everything we do.”
Livingston Parish cannot afford to pick up the tab for the road damages incurred in the flood, he said.
“In the meantime, I’m going to keep fighting – that’s all I can do,” Harrell said. “I’m just going to fight until the bitter end, either until we get what we need or until I get squashed.”