Top Corps official defends Katrina response|[2/9/06]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 9, 2006

A key U.S. Army Corps of Engineers official Wednesday defended the Corps’ cleanup efforts after Hurricane Katrina, a project some have said did not come with enough competitive bidding.

Doug Kamien of Vicksburg, reassigned from a senior position in the planning and project management division, addressed the Vicksburg Lions Club, giving a general overview of the Corps’ mission on the Gulf Coast in the weeks following the Aug. 29 storm.

Calling the task of removing an estimated 25 million cubic yards of storm debris from the Mississippi Gulf Coast &#8220a big mission with a lot of controversy,” Kamien estimated the task would be completed by the first week in June, just after the start of the next hurricane season in the North Atlantic basin.

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As for contracts for debris removal being let with no competitive process, Kamien said the process stems from contracts advertised two to three years in advance to have a company in place for quick-striking disasters.

&#8220The devil is in the details. There is no way we can hire a contractor within a week or two weeks to respond to a hurricane,” Kamien said.

When figures are adjusted for inflation, Hurricane Katrina is the costliest hurricane on record to strike the United States in the Atlantic basin, costing $75 billion.

The Corps is currently handling debris removal in the two southernmost coastal counties, Hancock and Jackson.

Removing debris from private property is also being done there, as long as residents sign forms giving the Corps permission to do so.

Harrison County, the most populous coastal county, opted to contract its debris removal services to the private sector after complaints about the speed and efficiency of the federal response to that need.

&#8220The federal government doesn’t tell municipalities what to do. They can do what they want,” Kamien said.

In response to one of three questions posed during the address, Kamien said the Corps is not doing private-sector debris removal in Harrison County.

The company that contracted for debris removal along the coast, Pompano Beach, Fla.-based AshBritt Environmental, subcontracted 830 outfits to assist in clearing debris and hauling it to reduction sites for processing, Kamien said.

Of those, 592 were Mississippi-based companies, awaiting obligations of slightly more than $101 million, according to Corps figures Kamien presented.

Kamien also defended the hiring of Akima Management Services to handle setting up temporary structures for such public entities as schools and fire departments in the face of the company having strong connections to the White House.

&#8220The contract officer of the Vicksburg District has no idea who has connections to the White House,” Kamien said. &#8220It was clean and above board.”

The Corps will try to do better in the future to avoid controversies in contracting services during hurricanes and natural disasters, &#8220although we did nothing wrong,” Kamien said, adding that using one contractor per state may be an idea.

&#8220Chances are, we will never have this kind a disaster like this again. Maybe 20 years from now,” Kamien said.

In response to a question on the material used in the Blue Roof program, Kamien said concerns over the thinness of the material used on temporary roofs, or Blue Roofs, may lead to a revisit of design specifications of the tarp.

Kamien also gave a brief update on the state of levee systems along the Mississippi River in the Vicksburg District, which spans east central Mississippi, northern Louisiana and southern Arkansas in the Mississippi Valley Division.

About 30 miles of levees are &#8220deficient and not high enough”on the Mississippi side of the river in the Vicksburg District, most of which exists from Eagle Lake north to Mayersville.

Those, along with 100 miles of deficient levees on the Louisiana side of the river within the District are set to be revamped in the next five to 10 years, Kamien said.