NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration will continue pushing back against a federal government inspector general who wants FEMA to strip $2 billion in disaster grants from the city to repair sewers, water pipes and roads.
"It's a reimbursement program, so we're about $350 million that we've spent and been reimbursed," said New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board Executive Director Cedric Grant.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security inspector general's office issued an audit report which says the pipes were old and in bad condition before Hurricane Katrina's surge proved too much for the federal levees and the city was swamped. The IG wants FEMA to take back the billions it approved for infrastructure repairs, but City Hall is not backing down.
"The IG came in after the fact, after the settlement had been confected, hands shaken between Mayor Landrieu and administrator Fugate and started this process where they finally concluded that, hey FEMA, New Orleans you followed the process, you did everything right and we get that there was a storm, we just disagree with FEMA's decision to give you $2 billion," said Zach Butterworth, director of federal relations for the city.
FEMA has the city's back. It said it verified the damage..
In a statement, FEMA Director of Public Affairs William Booher said, "The assessment included site visits and documentation from numerous site inspections performed by roadway engineers and other technical experts; pre- and post-Katrina aerial imagery; pre- and post-Katrina closed-circuit television inspections of sanitary sewer lines; pre- and post-Katrina water loss and repair records."
"Anything is possible, but the truth of the matter is we've worked this as best we can with our congressional delegation and with both administrations, the Obama administration and the Trump administration, and we have every reason to believe that we're going to just get the chance to continue and keep doing this program," said Grant.
"We feel very comfortable that the $2.04 billion that FEMA has obligated and committed to the rebuilding of the streets and infrastructure in New Orleans is safe. Now anything can happen. We're going to continue to advocate to our federal officials, Mayor Landrieu has met with administration officials at every level to talk about this," said Butterworth.
FEMA told FOX 8 News that as of July 25, 2017, FEMA has obligated $1,701,495,560.20 to the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, also known as GOHSEP.
"And they put it into essentially a management account that can then be drawn down on by the state of Louisiana to pay for these road repairs," said Butterworth.
Grant said losing the funds would be a huge setback.
"We'd have to stop, and quite honestly the bigger question is since they would suggest that we pay it back, it would be a serious impact on us," Grant said.