City officials: Billions of FEMA dollars still need to be spent, new projects underway

City officials: Billions of FEMA dollars still need to be spent, new projects underway

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - With the clock ticking on hundreds of millions of FEMA dollars, the Cantrell administration is trying to get more road and drainage projects underway. They have four years to spend $2.4 billion, or risk losing it.

With hundreds of potholes and crumbling subsurface pipes, New Orleans has major challenges. Two years ago, FEMA approved $2.4 billion in grants to repair damage done by Hurricane Katrina, but very little of that money has been spent, according to Ramsey Green, the city’s deputy chief administrative officer

“When we came in the door on May 7th, the joint infrastructure program was in disarray," Green said. “Less than 1 percent of the money had been spent.”

The Cantrell administration told council public works Tuesday (Jan. 15) that they have now taken steps to get more road and infrastructure projects underway by holding regular meetings with all affected departments to coordinate work under FEMA guidelines.

Their goal is to spend $450 million a year for the next four years, to make sure they don’t lose the grant money. They’ve also brought in specialists to make sure there are no holdups due to preservation concerns, according to Joe Threat, city projects manager.

“Right now, we have the first city archaeologist and historic preservationists, and they will do the monitoring on site,” Threat said.

Though the Cantrell administration is reporting problems in spending all the FEMA money, there has been progress made in the cleaning of catch basins. Officials said they are now clearing nearly 10 times the number of catch basins they did last year. The progress was shown in a recent, 8-day stretch last year, which measured them cleaning 195 basins compared to the previous 24, according to Green.

“Tthat was using androids, and more sophisticated deployment,” Green said.

An overriding goal of all this work is to make sure it’s done right and on time, according to City Councilman Jay Banks.

“When you dig it up, is everyone at the table to make sure you only dig it up once,” Banks said.

The administration said it is up to the challenge of making sure that all the FEMA money is spent by 2024, or risk losing it.

Right now, the Cantrell administration has 116 projects in the planning stage worth about $430 million. Projects underway include the Hagan Lafitte drainage upgrade and the Pontilly neighborhood storm-water network. You can monitor the projects on the city’s website: roadwork@nola.gov.

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