Around the GO Zone in 60 Seconds: FEMA Blasted, Bennie Nails It, Gene is Pi$$ed, Cash Clogs, Sister Mary, Brother Charlie & DC Politics, Orange Grove Retail Explosion plus New EOCs & Firehouse

I’ve been out lately so I’m trying to catch up.  It took me 50 seconds to write that long title so I better be quick. First is the verbal a$$ whipping laid on FEMA by Rep Barney Frank of Massachusetts with an assist from our own Bennie Thompson as told by the Sun Herald:

At a congressional hearing of two House subcommittees Wednesday, officials from FEMA and HUD failed to satisfy congressional critics about their efforts to find housing for 22,000 Katrina victims still living in trailers nearly three years after the storm.

House Financial Services Committee Chair Barney Frank, D-Mass., who attended the hearing, was incensed HUD and FEMA have not resolved a dispute over funding affordable housing. And House Homeland Security Committee Chair Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said lawmakers should tie strings to federal funds to prevent the diversion of housing funds to other uses, such as Mississippi’s decision to spend $600 million in Housing and Urban Development funding on port improvements in Gulfport.

“We should not send money for one purpose and allow federal government officials to allow a local official to change it,” Thompson said. “While I agree that expanding the port will benefit the Gulf’s economy, I have serious doubts as to whether the new port workers are going to have anywhere to live.”

Next up is my US Representative Gene Taylor displaying some dissatisfaction over the McCain, Obama & Clinton missing the Senate vote on adding a wind coverage option to NFIP. I’ll add this story conveys a flavor of the genuine and down to earth version of Gene we know down here. Maria Recio of the Sun Herald has the story:

Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Bay St. Louis, a reluctant superdelegate, told the Sun Herald that he would not support either of the two Democratic presidential hopefuls – Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton – or Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., because of the failure of the three senators to vote on an amendment adding wind coverage to the federal flood insurance program.

“I’m mad at all three of them,” said Taylor.

Nonetheless, Taylor said he would try and get the wind provision in the final bill when the Senate and House committees of jurisdiction meet soon in a conference to work out differences between the bills approved by each chamber. The wind amendment, authored by Taylor, is part of the House bill and the Mississippi lawmaker has spoken to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., about being on the conference committee. “Hopefully, I will be a conferee,” he said.

The Senate rejected the amendment by a wide margin, 73-19 in May, but Taylor believes any one of the presidential candidates could have attracted votes to his side. And Taylor, clearly one to hold a grudge, said, “If they can’t take the time to vote on an issue important to South Mississippi, then I’m not going to be endorsing any of them.”

But Taylor still has time to change his mind before the election in November or the Democratic Convention in Denver in August. The flood insurance program must be voted on by the end of September and conferees are expected to meet in June and July.

Asked if, by including McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, Taylor would consider endorsing the GOP standard-bearer, he said, “I repeat: All three skipped the vote; all three showed up later in the day. I’m mad at all three of them.”

Obama, an Illinois senator, and Clinton, a New York senator, battled until Wednesday for support of the superdelegates – elected officials, party elders and other officials with special status – for the nomination fight.

“Six months ago I’d never heard of a superdelegate,” said Taylor.

As for attending the convention, Taylor, who has never been to one, said, “We’ll see.”

Speaking of Gene he went before the Hancock County Board of Supervisors earlier this week promising to help shake some of the promised rebuild/recovery money loose from the Feds. I like his plan to put the vacant Ammo Plant to good use. JR Welsh filed this report:

U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor promised Tuesday to help frustrated Hancock County supervisors work their way through the Washington maze and unstop funding bottlenecks they say are hampering hurricane recovery.

Meeting with supervisors in the board room at the county governmental complex, Taylor listened to a litany of problems experienced by the county – inconsistency on the part of FEMA officials, the need for a new Health Department building and a county jail, and the lack of a home for the Emergency Operations Center.

All of those vital buildings were lost to Hurricane Katrina and still have not been replaced……….

Taylor said he will call for meetings with officials at both FEMA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the agency distributing the money. He said Washington officials may fail to understand the urgency of smaller projects that make up the total package. “They think it’s nickel and dime,” Taylor said. “But whatever they are comfortable with, they need to go ahead and release.”

The county also has reached a roadblock on its proposal to build a new Emergency Operations Center at Stennis Airport, north of Interstate 10. Officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture are objecting to the use of federal grants on the project, because the airport is in a wetlands area.

Taylor suggested supervisors drop the airport location and explore relocating the EOC to Stennis Space Center. The self-contained center has all the amenities necessary and should have vacant buildings to house EOC offices and equipment, he said.

Taylor said he will have his aides approach Stennis officials, arrange a visit to the site and explore the chances of putting the center in a building such as the old Army Ammunition Plant.

“Maybe it’s Fort Apache,” he said. “Maybe it’s the place you want to retreat when a big one is coming.”

Next stop on our tour is with our neighbors in Louisiana and their quest to get help on vital Hurricane Protection Levees, Affordable Housing and Hospitals. Bruce Alpert of the Times Picayune has the report on Charlie Melancon and Mary Landrieu’s efforts to scrounge some money up for these very important projects:

With House Democratic leaders working to pare spending from an emergency war supplemental bill to ease objections from the Bush White House and the party’s conservatives, extra financing supported by the Senate for New Orleans area levees, housing and hospitals appears in serious jeopardy………………

Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-Napoleonville, said that so far some $5.8 billion for upgraded levees appears to have escaped the budget ax during the House leadership negotiations this week. But he concedes it will be hard to gain support for other domestic spending initiatives favored by the Senate, including $2.9 billion in additional Katrina aid.

For whatever reason the fact Rep Melancon was from Napoleonville escaped me. I had the pleasure of spending some time and getting to know an old Cajun country lawyer from there named Pappy Triche once many years ago.  Pappy is a very well thought of and respected attorney. The story continues:

But Landrieu said she isn’t ready to give up on financing for hurricane recovery efforts. With prospects for passing regular appropriations bills uncertain in an election year, Landrieu said the emergency spending bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan might be the only financing option available.

“This bill is the most immediate way to meet our domestic emergency needs on the Gulf Coast,” Landrieu said.

Among the provisions Landrieu helped add to the Senate emergency spending bill was money to reduce the state’s share of upgrading levees to 100-year flood protection levels from $1.5 billion to $1.3 billion. The provision would also give the state as long as 30 years to pay its share, instead of just three.

The Senate bill also includes $70 million for 3,000 permanent housing vouchers for low-income people, including seniors and the disabled who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

Landrieu said the need for the spending is made clear by recent reports that the homeless population in New Orleans had doubled since before Hurricane Katrina to an estimated 12,000.

The Senate-passed supplemental also includes $157 million to help New Orleans hospitals deal with post-Katrina health care delivery costs and $50 million for upgrades in Louisiana’s criminal justice system.

Now we zip back down I-10 to Gulfport and the legacy of former Mayor Ken Combs in Orange Grove. The area was booming as a retail mecca before Katrina, which has since served to accelerate the growth there. Ryan LaFontaine tells us the new shopping options there soon to be open:

South Mississippi’s retail mecca, which already includes the Crossroads Shopping Center and Prime Outlets, is expanding again.

Orange Grove was largely responsible for Gulfport’s rapid fiscal rebound following Hurricane Katrina. In the coming months it will add a few more heavy-hitters to its already impressive business lineup.

A 141,000-square-foot Super Sam’s Club and another large shopping center anchored by the electronics giant Best Buy will open in Orange Grove before the year is out, city officials told the Sun Herald.

“After the storm our people asked what they should be working on, recovery or development, and we got together and said ‘let’s do both,’

” Mayor Brent Warr said. “The work done after the storm is why we’re seeing such growth in Orange Grove right now.”

In the next few months Orange Grove will see everything from big-box retail to large residential development, national restaurant chains to mom-and-pop eateries such as Coop’s Barbecue, a new joint on Dedeaux Road.

“That’s some of the best ribs I’ve ever eaten and I consider myself to be somewhat of an authority on ribs,” said John Kelly, the city’s chief administrative officer, who had lunch last week at Coop’s.

Finally we head down Highway 49 to the beach and Highway 90 for the scenic trip over to “the Bay” where we find their plans for the combo new main Firehouse/EOC have been finalized. JR Welsh filed the story:

In scarcely more than a year, city firefighters will move to a new central station built to withstand hurricane force winds and provide faster access to a wider swath of town.

City Council members got a look this week at an architect’s model of the new station, to be located in the 500 block of Main Street behind the City Hall complex. For years, the Fire Department has been headquartered in the old Valena C. Jones School building on Old Spanish Trail.

The new station will provide a more central location and allow fire trucks quicker access to U.S. 90 and newly annexed portions of the city. It will also be much safer than the current station, which took a beating in Hurricane Katrina

“The plan for safety really guided this design,” said Allison Anderson, whose company, Unabridged Architecture, is handling the project. She said a ribbon cutting on the property is planned for September and construction is expected to take about 12 months.

The fire station will cost $4 million. Half of that is being provided by FEMA and half is coming from federal Community Development Block Grant hazard mitigation funds. The building will have 7,000 square feet of habitable space and another 4,800 square feet of parking bays and equipment storage.

The station will be built to the same elevation of City Hall, located in the former Coast Electric headquarters. It did not flood during Katrina, Anderson said. The station will be a veritable fortress, with walls of 2-inch-thick concrete block covered by brick veneer that should withstand winds of 200 miles per hour.

It will also serve as the city’s Emergency Operations Center during disasters. The building will include four truck bays, a communications tower and decontamination room, and will hold a kitchen and bunk rooms capable of sleeping up to 80 people.