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Hurricane KatrinaThe Mississippi Story$

James Patterson Smith

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9781617030239

Published to University Press of Mississippi: March 2014

DOI: 10.14325/mississippi/9781617030239.001.0001

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Digging Out in a Whirlwind of Contract Controversy

Digging Out in a Whirlwind of Contract Controversy

Chapter:
(p.93) Chapter Five Digging Out in a Whirlwind of Contract Controversy
Source:
Hurricane Katrina
Author(s):

James Patterson Smith

Publisher:
University Press of Mississippi
DOI:10.14325/mississippi/9781617030239.003.0005

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter discusses the cleanup in the aftermath of Katrina. The hurricane left an unprecedented amount of destruction in its wake. Spread over a 90,000-square-mile area in three states, Katrina left 118 million cubic yards of debris. In Mississippi’s bottom six counties, the debris load was initially estimated to be six times the solid waste that the entire state generated in an ordinary year. The removal of the debris also presented a daunting challenge for the local officials, who, under duress, had to make the complicated contracting decisions that got the ruins cleared away.

Keywords:   Katrina, cleanup, contracting, local government

Television pictures show glimpses of the destruction: the gutted antebellum homes, the rows of pancaked houses, the mangled gas stations and fast-food joints, the casinos that float no more. But it’s the shear mass of Katrina’s fury—the decimation of entire coastal towns, the jarring pockets of odor that bespeak animal or human death … that leave hurricane hardened residents and experienced relief workers awestruck.

—REPORTER JOHN SIMERMAN

Contra Coasta Times (California)

September 11, 20051

America is being threatened by a Category 5 hurricane of peculation. All the elements are in place: $200 billion or so in federal cash, a large helping of government guilt about its failures to prepare for Hurricane Katrina, an atmosphere rife with cronyism and fueled by public and private corruption…. That much money spent that fast … by so many firms with no, or limited, bids cannot be monitored closely.

—EDITORIAL, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

September 28, 20052

The massive volume of the destruction left in the wake of Katrina dwarfed all previous records of disaster wreckage in American history. Spread over a 90,000-square-mile area in three states, the storm left 118 million cubic (p.94) yards of debris, a volume many times greater than the previous record set by Hurricane Andrew.3 Frank Reddish, manager of the Bureau of Recovery and Mitigation for Miami–Dade County, believed that it might take as long as five years to clear the Katrina destruction. He speculated that in the near term, the job was “more than all of the debris companies in the world could handle.”4 Apart from its Louisiana and Alabama impacts, just within the state of Mississippi Katrina left 46 million cubic yards of destruction lying on the ground, mired in a stinking sludge. In Mississippi’s bottom six counties, the debris load was initially estimated to be six times the solid waste that the entire state generated in an ordinary year. The local property tax base was largely gone. No recovery could begin until local governments and private citizens alike faced up to the daunting task of digging out. On one level, the cleanup involved the finality of personal loss and pain. On a second level it was an engineering marvel. At the end of the first month after the storm, 10,000 truckloads of debris were moving off Mississippi streets each day.5 However, before the bills were paid and the last loads hauled away, the technological triumph had become ensnared in a political tangle. While Mississippi’s disaster response and local Unified Command System drew national accolades, the removal of Katrina’s massive mounds of destruction spawned tentacles of Washington-based second-guessing that reached forward for years to frustrate, distract, and dismay many of the local leaders who spearheaded the recovery.

There was urgency at all levels in attacking the debris problem. Unnecessary delays in removing putrefying waste could spread disease, attract rodents, and present unmanageable fire hazards. Thus, in the midst of FEMA’s massive logistics failures, Mississippi officials had to make quick decisions on how to execute the cleanup. As if health and safety concerns were not enough to get them started, the initial 60-day time limits set for 100 percent federal cleanup support presented additional pressure. Fuel and food shortages or not, an army of equipment and a bevy of disposal sites had to be located and engaged. Federal help with the task of digging out was essential and much appreciated. However, clouds of suspicion soon gathered over the Army Corps of Engineers contracts that had been awarded on an expedited, limited competition or “no-bid” basis. The charged atmosphere of distrust surrounding corps contracting generated pledges of heightened federal auditing attention for all Katrina contracts. Increased scrutiny produced ex post facto auditing standards, which in turn underscored the clumsiness and insensitivity of the FEMA and Army Corps of Engineers processes.

(p.95) Local governments had the option to openly bid their own cleanup contract. Those that did so found that they could get the job done more cheaply and employ more local workers by going outside the Army Corps of Engineers “no-bid” arrangements. However, cost-effective bargains were of little concern to the swarms of auditors sent to second-guess these decisions and their execution. Even before the furor over Katrina contracts came to a head in Washington, FEMA functionaries cautioned local governments that exercising the option to contract debris removal on their own would necessitate a large commitment to careful record keeping for the federal audits that could be expected whenever reimbursement requests were filed. The specter of the paperwork burden led the smallest of the hard-hit Mississippi entities to choose to do the debris work through the Army Corps of Engineers. There would be no debris removal audits for cities and counties that elected the corps for cleanup.

On a personal level, every storm victim wrestled with debris on his or her own property. When Katrina’s surge waters subsided on Belmede Avenue in Gulfport on Monday evening, Betty Smith and Pearl Bozeman, the two widows who had perched atop mattresses to escape drowning, somehow managed to clear a path through the topsy-turvy wreckage which the invading waters of the Katrina storm surge left inside the Bozeman house. With the life-and-death struggle of the day behind them, the ladies, both in their 60s, fell asleep exhausted on waterlogged sofas and mattresses oblivious to the foul stench that now enveloped everything that the surge had touched. The next morning, Betty Smith walked down the debris-strewn street to check on her own small house. The structure had lost some shingles, but it was still standing. However, the door was jammed and would barely budge. Four feet of water had penetrated the house and turned its contents into a slimy, odorous mass of disarray. The waters of Katrina had floated, overturned, saturated, warped, or otherwise ruined everything inside. From waterlogged chests of drawers and bedding to furniture, appliances, and curios collected over a lifetime, it was all a total loss. Outside, Betty Smith’s late-model Honda had also been enveloped in water and would not start. The car and virtually all of the contents of her house now counted as part of the 46 million cubic yards of debris which Katrina left behind in Mississippi. With only the clothes on her back to call her own, Betty Smith took up residence with her sister 10 miles inland.

Over the next two weeks, friends and family members salvaged a few precious photos and mementos and dragged the rest of the widow’s worldly goods to the street. Soon thereafter, unknown contractors operating cranes (p.96) with huge claws ripped load after load from the ground and slung it over the side of a dump truck to be hauled away. Over the coming year, debris piles and dump trucks became the defining feature of the local scenery. Trucks and tractors clogged streets, created massive traffic jams, and pulverized the pavement. For months on end, everything on the Mississippi Gulf Coast seemed to move in slow motion behind a debris truck.6 Never-ending streams of ragged cargo headed toward one of the 340 temporary disposal sites across the state. Behind the scenes, a federal-state Joint Debris Task Force set rules, identified appropriate permanent dumping grounds with suitable clay-based soils, and resolved a litany of problems related to the disposal of unprecedented mountains of rubbish contaminated with household chemicals, rotting food, and sewage.7

The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, various local governments, and the Army Corps of Engineers identified locations for temporary storage, staging, sorting, and final disposal of the various types of debris. In the three Mississippi Gulf Coast counties, 65 to 70 percent of the load was made up of household items and construction waste from tens of thousands of building demolitions. In Harrison, Hancock, and Jackson counties, over 450,000 appliances—washers, refrigerators, hot water heaters, and the like—were separated out for pulverizing. This enabled the recycling of more than 24,000 tons of metal. In addition, 1,500 pounds of refrigerant were extracted from air conditioners, freezers, and refrigerators. Specialized sites were developed for concrete crushing and the staging of tens of thousands of ruined automobiles and boats. Even though these efforts allowed considerable volume reduction, 13 new disposal sites were opened on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in addition to the six permitted sites in operation before the storm.8

As the hurricane moved north off the coast, the debris left in its wake changed from 70 percent structural and household in makeup to one that was 85 percent tree limbs and logs. Of the 340 temporary sites across the state, 250 were chip or burn sites for vegetative debris. This type of green waste could be recycled as boiler fuel or used as mulch for blueberry farms, playgrounds, or live oak recovery efforts. However, by January, the threat of spontaneous combustion in mulch heaps reaching 40 feet high combined with the lack of sufficient markets meant that much of the vegetative waste wound up being burned on site and the ash reused for soil enrichment.9

For engineers, the waste disposal effort was a marvel to behold. However, behind every ton that was crushed, burned, recycled, or buried there stood personal stories of loss. Seeing the contents of family homes go to the street (p.97) was one of the more painful memories of the storm for Rev. Guss Shelly, age 60. Rev. Shelly had been the pastor of First United Methodist Church in Gulfport for eight years when Katrina hit. After 37 years in the ministry, Pastor Guss and his wife, Sarah, had bought their first home just three years earlier. Located on Second Street in Gulfport, the Shelly residence was a modest old wood-frame bungalow built off the ground on three-foot pillars. When they returned to their Gulfport home the day after the storm, the Shellys found that four feet of water had entered the house and taken its toll. Once-beautiful hardwood floors had buckled. When he took his first step inside, Guss Shelly’s foot slipped on the slimy gunk that covered the floor. Never one for foul language himself, the preacher quoted his country cousins. “Slicker than greased owl s–t,” he was sure they would have said. The phrase encompassed both the consistency and the smell of the mud that Katrina deposited on the floors inside and on the yard outside. With two changes of clothes to call their own, the Shellys pulled a few salvageable items from the house and took up residence a short distance away in the Sunday school wing of the church. Here, over the next several days, they dined on a seemingly endless buffet of canned tuna and made themselves available to meet the needs of others.10

In the Shellys’ congregation, 128 families had lost their homes. Ten or twelve days passed before a large volunteer group from Oxford insisted that it was time to clean out the preacher’s house. Mrs. Shelly did not want to watch, but as Rev. Shelly recalled, “I really thought I was big boy enough that [cleaning out the house] wasn’t going to be a problem.” He had spent a lifetime helping people place value on matters of the spirit. “After all,” he said, “things are just things.” Nonetheless, when the moment came, his tears betrayed him. Guss Shelly “discovered right away” that he “wasn’t nearly prepared to watch” the family’s clothing and furniture—“the things we had worked to buy and were proud to have”—be thrown out into the street. The Shellys’ personal pain made them one with tens of thousands of others who saw their clothes and furniture heaped before their eyes. Katrina reminded the preacher that sometimes things are not just things. For things and places can evoke powerful memories of the people and events connected with them—people and events that have shaped our lives.11

For the Shellys, resilience in the face of overwhelming loss owed much to personal faith and to the supportive presence of others. Somehow the sharing of simple tasks could transform moments of heartache into times of renewal. Unexpected armies of volunteers descended upon the region in a flood of compassion that pushed aside, at least for a time, much of the (p.98) despair normal to such scenes of loss and desolation. “I know that we are taught that we are born into sin, and that we are of a sinful nature,” the pastor observed, but “I’ve always believed that there’s more good in humanity than there is evil,” or at least “the good overwhelms” the evil. Through the eyes of faith, the proof was seen in the action of the thousands of people who saw “others suffering and wanted to do whatever … they could to make a difference.” Rev. Shelly recalled that even shipments of supplies and clothing from strangers far away brought an unspoken encouragement “that was worth more than what was in the boxes … ten times over.”12 Crosses and flags sprang from the rubble as both symbols of determination and as witnesses to the sacred value attached to feelings of connection to community and nation in the time of crisis.

There were flags, but there were also frustrations. Federal disaster recovery programs held the promise of financial relief in one hand, while spinning a web of bureaucratic red tape and indifference with the other. Yet, there was another reality. FEMA might stumble, but in the bodies of a countless army of volunteers, the nation reached beyond its flawed bureaucracies to assert its compassion and manifest a will to redeem a devastated region. The nation’s compassion could not be doubted. It helped that President George W. Bush made 11 trips to the Gulf Coast in the 12 months after the storm.13 This power, the power of simple human caring multiplied hundreds of thousands of times, propelled the personal recovery of countless thousands of Katrina’s victims as they navigated through their darkest hours of loss.14

Beyond the personal, the removal of the debris presented a challenge of unimaginable proportions for the local officials who, under duress, had to make the complicated contracting decisions that got the ruins cleared away. In addition to the destruction of more than 65,000 Mississippi homes, the hurricane had destroyed dozens of public buildings and large portions of municipal water and sewer systems. Decades of public investment had been lost. The property tax base was laid low, leaving no local financial foundation for cleanup and reconstruction. The costs of clearing the 46 million cubic yards of destruction—let alone public infrastructure replacement—would have bankrupted Mississippi coastal towns and counties but for the federal aid promised in the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act. The law reflected the generosity of the American people. Yet municipal and county officials also found themselves navigating complex federal regulations to avail their communities of the promised assistance. In the matter of disaster cleanup, harried local officials could either turn the (p.99) whole problem over to FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers, or they could bid the debris contracts themselves and seek FEMA reimbursements. The FEMA process demanded formal requests and specific state and federal project approvals.15 In addition, the Stafford Act required state or local governments to “indemnify the Federal Government against any claim” of harm arising from removal of debris or wreckage on public and private property.16

From the start of the local response and recovery effort, the indemnity requirement created a nagging fear that far-off federal officials slavishly devoted to rules scripted for lesser disasters might at some later date withhold payment for local decisions taken in good faith at the height of the emergency. In the matter of debris contracts, the uncertainty about audits and reimbursements led the Jackson County Board of Supervisors and smaller Harrison County towns like Pass Christian to shy away from bidding out the work themselves.17 They, along with every local entity in Hancock County, chose the Army Corps of Engineers and its “no-bid” contract with AshBritt Corporation of Pompano Beach, Florida. However, Harrison County and the larger cities of Gulfport and Biloxi decided to bid the debris removal jobs themselves. The larger local jurisdictions were confident in their abilities to handle the federal paperwork.

Privately, FEMA field officers urged the Harrison County Board of Supervisors to give the debris job to the Army Corps of Engineers. They pointed out that work done through the corps would free the county of any worries about audits and possible “de-obligation” and payback of federal funds if some deficiency in the contracting or documentation were later discovered. However, the desire to put local people to work plus the county’s extensive experience with federal paperwork processes pulled the Harrison County board to a decision to bid their own debris contracts locally. The main Harrison County debris contract came in at $11 per cubic yard. The city of Biloxi, with a greater percentage of demolition debris, cut a deal for $15.89 per cubic yard.18 Mississippi officials believed that they had gotten better rates by bidding out the work on their own.

In fact, these locally negotiated prices turned out to be a real bargain for taxpayers. Citing contractor objections to potential “competitive harm,” the corps kept the details of its half-billion dollar contract with AshBritt shrouded in secrecy.19 It took nine months of mounting political pressure before AshBritt officials revealed to Congress that the Army Corps of Engineers was paying the Florida company $23 per cubic yard for work done in Mississippi.20 At the same time, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency calculated that where cities and counties had bid out their (p.100) own contracts they averaged $17 per cubic yard.21 Those who believed local governments negotiating their own contracts could save the taxpayers money were indeed proven to be correct.

Congressional inquiries also confirmed that locally bid contracts were the best vehicles to put local people to work. When the corps awarded the AshBritt contract, company spokesman Randall Perkins had announced a plan to “hire 3,000 to 4,000 workers” through use of in-region subcontractors as part of a “good faith effort to include small and minority businesses.”22 Much press and congressional attention focused on the relationship between big prime contractors such as AshBritt and the multiple layers of low-paid subcontractors and laborers they employed. For the mass of small truckers and backhoe operators at the bottom of as many as five tiers of subcontractors, the pickings were slim. Tracy House, a 33-year-old trucker from Laurel, Mississippi, told the story of hiring on in mid-September at $3 per cubic yard working for an AshBritt subcontractor from North Carolina. Normally, House made his living hauling frozen chicken to East Coast outlets or transporting logs to the mills around Laurel. House had never done debris work, and even though the $3 per cubic yard he was offered looked like “just another guy’s leftovers,” he took the job thinking it might “open some doors” and give him an opportunity to expand his business. After working for a short time at $3 per cubic yard, House found another out-of-state AshBritt subcontractor who offered him $6 per cubic yard. House took the work. House and other local truckers were far down the line from the main contractor and earned only one-fourth the money the corps paid to AshBritt. However, the decals affixed to their trucks still carried the Ash-Britt name. Post-Katrina diesel prices of $3.29 per gallon meant that by Tracy House’s own calculation he was barely breaking even at $6 per cubic yard—work for which AshBritt was collecting $23 per cubic yard.23

In mid-October, in an environment where neither AshBritt nor the corps would break the code of silence on the big Mississippi debris deal, the Associated Press unearthed a pattern of individual haulers being paid $6 to $8 per cubic yard and midlevel contractors earning $15 per cubic yard. This investigation showed that in arranging its Mississippi debris work, AshBritt had contracted with a North Carolina company named Byrd Brothers. Byrd Brothers in turn subcontracted with Natco Corporation of Bristol, Tennessee. Natco then hired the consultants who worked in the field to recruit low-paid haulers like Tracy House and others who lived in the Laurel area. Sometimes these local contractors then subcontracted with still smaller operators.24

(p.101) These and similar reports led Congressman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, to describe the fate of small subcontractors like Tracy House as “sharecrop-ping.” “I am from Mississippi,” Thompson said, and “I know sharecropping when I see it.” The corps and the prime contractors themselves argued that the oversight they provided from checking skid tickets to inspecting trucks and sorting the refuse for recycle justified their arrangements with the poorly paid subcontractors at the bottom.25 For Congressman Thompson, it appeared that the only way to keep small and minority businesses from being edged out was to “be aggressive about oversight.”26

In a November hearing, Mississippi Congressman Chip Pickering echoed this concern when he complained about the tiny percentage of corps prime contracts that had gone to Mississippi companies.27 Despite the often reaffirmed goal of putting local people to work, of the $3.7 billion in FEMA and Army Corps of Engineers contracts awarded through December of 2005, only $129 million (or 3.45 percent) had been awarded to companies headquartered Mississippi.28 Through mid-October, Indiana businesses, for example, had garnered $587 million in contracts, or twice the combined value of all contracts won by companies in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana—the storm-impacted states.29

Intense congressional criticism of the corps contracts had already resulted in a strong auditing regime for all Katrina-related work. Under renewed pressure, AshBritt promised the Army Corps of Engineers that it would work to eliminate some of its Mississippi contracting layers.30 However, in February of 2006, the Mississippi congressional delegation produced evidence that the big Florida prime contractor was working behind the scenes in Washington to thwart a FEMA plan to reopen corps debris bidding in Mississippi. The FEMA re-bid plan was a response to political heat and part of the agency’s newfound desire to give more work to small companies in the state. Various AshBritt appeals and delays indeed succeeded in stripping Gulfport’s Necaise Brothers Construction of an April 2006 corps prime contract deal.31 AshBritt’s success in blocking the move to divide the corps contract attracted still more congressional scrutiny.

The various locally bid debris deals in Harrison County had sent prime contracts to such companies as Neel-Shaffer, Inc., of Jackson, Mississippi; W.G. Yates of Philadelphia, Mississippi; TCB Construction of Poplarville, Mississippi; Crowder-Gulf Joint Venture headquartered in the neighboring coastal town of Theodore, Alabama; as well as Necaise Brothers in Gulfport. The Mississippi counties and municipalities that worked through these (p.102) locally bid contracts eliminated at least two layers of subcontractor tiering and came in at prices far below the corps deal with AshBritt.32

Locally hired cleanup crews also seemed to work with greater speed. In December of 2005, Harrison County had completed 57 percent of a job first estimated at more than 10 million cubic yards. On the other hand, in Jackson County, where the county and all of its municipalities had chosen to work through the corps and AshBritt, only 39 percent of the estimated debris work had been completed.33 The constant threat that time would run out on 100 percent federal funding made the speed of the work a matter of unending local concern. Disaster-stricken communities knew that they were unable to pay their part of the 25 percent match that could be required whenever that federal clock should stop ticking. In late October, FEMA estimated that 13 million cubic yards of debris had been cleared away in Mississippi. However, 33 million cubic yards remained to be picked up. The threatened loss of federal support occasioned Governor Haley Barbour’s first appeal to Washington for more time.34 Thus, in late October, President Bush approved the first in what became a series of presidential deadline extensions granted over the next two years. Still, without knowing the disposition of any particular time-extension appeal, local officials felt constantly pressured to get things done quickly lest they lose federal support for their efforts.

Differences in approach and decision making sped up the work on locally bid contracts. In Biloxi, for example, working with their own contractor, the city condemned entire neighborhoods. Unless a property owner filed a protest, debris crews moved onto private property and demolished condemned structures and removed storm refuse. By December, Biloxi had removed 740 homes in three condemned neighborhoods. Some Biloxi residents objected to the abbreviated process, but to Mayor Holloway, the speedy clearance of condemned properties was justified as a public health and safety measure and because it meant a faster return to normalcy.35 In contrast, only 25 condemned residences had been cleared in Pascagoula under an Army Corps of Engineers contract. The corps required a house-by-house approach, rather than the neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis that Biloxi had implemented. It took the federal agency weeks to decide on the wording of the release it required individual home owners to sign before a structure could be torn down. Once the form got to its proper wording, new demands for measurements and GPS locations for each house arose to clog the wheels of the agency. Then, the EPA convinced the corps to require demolition contractors to open, sanitize, and remove Freon from refrigerators before each demolition.36

(p.103) Manly Barton, the president of the Jackson County Board of Supervisors, complained that there were “so many levels of approvals” in the corps approach “that nobody seemed to be able to make a decision and get things done.” Local government could do nothing to change the process or the priorities behind it. As corps approval processes grew more cumbersome, the speed of cleanup in Jackson County slowed from 75,000 cubic yards per day to a mere 12,000 cubic yards a day. Contemplating the threatened ending of 100 percent federal reimbursement, county board member Frank Leach could not help but believe that “something [was] very wrong here.” As Leach saw it, “Our federal government is paying an extraordinary amount of money for services that are not being performed adequately.” Nevertheless, there were those who defended the corps house-by-house approach. Some valued the extra time in their dealings with insurance agents and adjusters. However, in December of 2005, uncertainty over exactly when 100 percent federal reimbursement might end, together with the apparent speed of the Harrison County cleanup, prompted the Jackson County Board of Supervisors to terminate their deal with the corps and AshBritt.37

It took four months for Jackson County to declare that it wanted no more debris dealings with the Army Corps of Engineers. However, on the national level, controversy had enveloped the big corps’ no-bid contract almost as soon as the first dump trucks rolled down Mississippi streets. On September 15, after an abbreviated three-day competition, the Army Corps of Engineers had hired four politically well-connected companies to remove debris in Mississippi and Louisiana. Each contract was worth up to $500 million with an option for another $500 million deal. With only three days’ notice, instead of the usual 30-day period, 22 companies had managed to submit proposals.38 Two of the companies selected were headquartered in Florida, one in Minnesota, and one in California. In awarding the big Mississippi contract to AshBritt, the corps had passed over the lone Mississippi company to place a bid. The day the AshBritt contract was announced, USA Today carried a troubling article questioning all of the abbreviated-competition or no-bid contracts. Noting that it was “routine for government agencies to award non-competitive contracts for emergency work” to speed recovery operations, the article focused on an emergency housing contract which had been awarded to a California company previously fined for padding its bills on federal work.39 Danielle Brian, executive director of the watchdog Project on Government Oversight, characterized this and other so-called no-bid contracts as “an invitation to major defense and homeland security contractors to loot the federal treasury.” Criticism (p.104) of the corps’ AshBritt deal in Mississippi soon followed. Rep. Henry Waxman, the ranking Democrat on the U.S. House Government Reform Committee, raised immediate complaints that under the Bush administration, the value of no-bid contracts had “skyrocketed.” Waxman also expressed alarm about the administration’s outsourcing of the oversight of many federal contracts to private companies “with blatant conflicts of interest” such that when federal auditors identified abuses “their recommendations [were] often ignored.”40 The next day, Senator Joe Lieberman and Senator Susan Collins, the ranking Democratic and Republican members of the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, announced a bill to “expand the role” of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction to include oversight of Katrina recovery. They aimed to get strict accounting procedures applied as quickly as possible to the looming federal Katrina spending.41 Simultaneously, legislation authorizing the hiring of more FEMA inspectors general moved forward in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.42 Anger over the administration’s early mishandling of Iraq War spending was now transferred to Katrina. Distrust and rancor charged the Washington political atmosphere. Inevitably all of this was translated into more checks and balances, more appeals, and more paperwork for crisis-weary local officials. Thus, over the next several years, counties and municipalities that had chosen to bid their own debris contracts came to respect and dread the phrase “FEMA Inspector General.”

The corps’ AshBritt contract for Mississippi drew particular scrutiny. Early on, experienced hurricane recovery experts joined various Washington watchdog groups in denouncing the AshBritt deal as unreasonably expensive. Troubling questions arose from the fact that AshBritt was a client of Barbour, Griffith, and Rogers, the Washington lobbying firm founded by Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour. Congressional sources noted that in early 2005, AshBritt paid Barbour, Griffith, and Rogers $40,000 specifically to help the Florida company secure Army Corps of Engineers contracts.43 Barbour himself maintained that when he took office as Mississippi’s governor in 2004, he had put his assets into a “blind trust” and cut his ties with his former lobbying firm.44 The blind trust kept the sources of Barbour’s $25,000 per month in private income secret. Thus, it could not be determined whether the Mississippi governor was on a fixed pension or actually profiting from shares in the Barbour, Griffith, and Rogers firm or its parent company, the Interpublic Group. Though the Mississippi Ethics Commission had accepted Barbour’s financial arrangements, the Barbour trust device was assailed because it did not meet the more exacting disclosure (p.105) standards required of federal officeholders who use such instruments. As a result, no less a conservative columnist than Mississippi’s Charlie Mitchell of the Vicksburg Post wondered publically, “Is Barbour Profiting from Katrina?” Mitchell asserted that he was posing a question “that has a simple verifiable answer.” Nonetheless, because the terms of the trust were held confidential, no answer had appeared. Thus, using a southern colloquialism, Mitchell quipped that in the matter of whether the governor profited from Katrina, “it’s a secret, son, it’s a secret.”45 Impervious to the pressure, Barbour refused to make public the specific sources of his private income, and he refused to appease critics through release of his income tax returns. He did not change his stance during his 2007 reelection campaign.46 The secrecy surrounding AshBritt’s Army Corps of Engineers contract acted in tandem with the governor’s refusal to disclose his own finances to further gin up suspicions.

The controversy impacted Barbour’s former business associates, and it brought increased federal attention to all Mississippi contracts and contractors. In its October 24, 2005, issue, Roll Call, the influential Capitol Hill publication, noted that “the sensitivity of Barbour’s position” had led his old lobbying firm to stop accepting new business from companies seeking Katrina-related contracts. The governor’s old firm did, however, continue its work for The Southern Company, the parent company of Mississippi Power. The AshBritt contract in Mississippi attracted more attention when it became known that the company had hired former Mississippi Republican Congressman Mike Parker to beef up its lobbying effort just two days after Katrina struck. Still more doubt arose from the fact that Parker himself was a former Army Corps of Engineers official.47

Barbour’s supporters claimed that this was all a case of smoke without fire. Passage of time supported their assertions. Through five years of tight audits under two federal administrations, no investigator filed any formal charges of wrongdoing in these matters. Nonetheless, the smoke plumes of suspicion surrounding the AshBritt deal brought additional heat to bear on all Mississippi contracts and contractors. Congressional irritation at AshBritt’s early refusals to disclose the details of its Mississippi contract prompted Jean Todd, the federal contracting officer who oversaw the deal, to assert her determination to ensure fair pricing. Moreover, Todd felt compelled to promise publicly that “we have auditors that will be looking at all of this.”48 Media critics were not appeased. On September 28, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published an editorial associating the Mississippi Ash-Britt deal with the corrupt image of the Huey Long era in Louisiana. The (p.106) editorialist warned that America was now being threatened with a “Category 5 hurricane of peculation” in the gulf.49 Cries of “crony capitalism”50 and revelations that AshBritt CEO Randall Perkins and his wife, Sally, had given tens of thousands of dollars to the Republican National Committee further clouded the issue.51 It was little wonder that at the end of the first week in October, Michael Jackson, the deputy secretary of Homeland Security, told House members that he now favored rebidding the no-bid contracts.52 At the same time, Homeland Security Inspector General Richard Skinner told a House subcommittee that reviewing the Mississippi debris contracts was now “high on our priority list.”53 The heat was now on, and the pledge of rigorous audits was indeed one pledge that federal agencies kept.

Across the Mississippi Gulf Coast, debris contract decisions had to be made long before the federal furor erupted. Even so, there were early signs that suggested caution. For Harrison County board member Marlin Ladner, the thing that was “most curious” about FEMA in its relationship with local officials was the refusal of FEMA field representatives to take a public position on the appropriateness of any locally bid contract. Ladner recalled a board meeting in which he attempted to get the FEMA debris specialist to give prior approval for a county contract proposal. Ladner asked point-blank, “Is this okay; are these prices right?” The FEMA representative’s response typified much that frustrated local officials. “I’m here to advise you that the ultimate decision is yours,” he said. In Ladner’s view it was a polite way of telling the Harrison County board, “I’m not going to tell you if your decision is right or wrong, and we’re definitely not going to give you anything in writing telling you that this is okay.” Thus, the Harrison County Board of Supervisors and other local governments had to make huge financial decisions with no prior assurance that they would pass muster in the FEMA inspector general’s final accounting. Moreover, they were informed that FEMA might initially pay the bill and then later “de-obligate,” or force disaster-ravaged communities to pay it all back. Thirty-two percent (14.5 million cubic yards)54 of Mississippi’s 46 million cubic yards of debris lay on the ground in Harrison County. In this one county various debris contracts would eventually total almost $260 million—a figure well beyond anything the local tax base could pay.55

Even so, Harrison County and many other local governments had decided to bypass the Army Corps of Engineers and hire their own contractors. Monies were borrowed. Invoices were paid. Reimbursement requests were then sent forward to FEMA through the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. Without knowing the intensity of the Washington political (p.107) debate over the Mississippi and Louisiana Katrina contracting, local officials operating in good faith had every reason to believe that the federal government would pay for this essential part of the disaster recovery work.56

The city of Biloxi was one of the first jurisdictions to feel the heat from the Washington contract furor. In Biloxi, Mayor A. J. Holloway had actually taken pre–storm season bids on a so-called “push contract.” The push contract was limited to clearing the main streets in the first 72 hours after a storm so that emergency vehicles could get in for search and rescue. The intent was to lock in a predisaster price-per-cubic-yard agreement and thus avoid crisis-driven decision making. By the time Katrina struck, Biloxi had taken bids and selected a company, but a formal contract had not been signed. In the immediate aftermath of the storm, when faced with the destruction of 6,000 of Biloxi’s 25,000 homes and businesses, the mayor believed that critical search and rescue issues made it imperative that he move immediately on the push contract.57 However, when the two prestorm low bidders attempted to add fuel surcharges to their original proposals, the mayor sent them packing and quickly found a third company willing to do the work at the prestorm low-bid price. The mayor thought he had done due diligence and driven a hard bargain. Biloxi’s 72-hour push contract went to W. G. Yates Construction Company of Philadelphia, Mississippi.58 City officials were confident that their previous experience with FEMA’s record-keeping requirements would mean that they could withstand any audits.59

Months later, to the veteran mayor’s surprise, FEMA rejected Biloxi’s reimbursement request. There was no question that push contracts were eligible under the Stafford Act, and the prices were not in dispute. However, in the crisis rush to get things moving in East Biloxi, there was apparently a procedural misunderstanding. Not one to bite the hand that feeds, Mayor Holloway was reluctant to criticize FEMA and MEMA. After all, the federal funding which these agencies oversaw played an essential role in the overall recovery effort. Still, the Biloxi mayor could not understand why state and federal authorities ruled that Biloxi’s first push contract was “not eligible” for federal reimbursement. There had been a dire need. At the time, there was only one FEMA representative for the entire county, and Biloxi had done its best to negotiate a fair deal even as the city operated under extreme duress. Biloxi entered an appeal, and the mayor known for his “economy of words” went personally to lay out the case. In a meeting with FEMA and MEMA representatives Holloway explained how the contractor was employed and again presented copies of the city’s proof of payment. Biloxi’s appeal was eventually successful, and FEMA paid the cost of that (p.108) initial push contract. However, this defense of the city in what amounted to a procedural dispute had cost the mayor and his staff time and effort that was much needed for other pressing recovery issues.60

A year and a half after the storm, 24 other Mississippi cities and counties found the FEMA inspector general’s office questioning their locally bid contracts and threatening to force return of portions of reimbursements already paid. One of these entities was Jones County, located 100 miles inland from Biloxi. In the immediate aftermath of Katrina, the Jones County Board of Supervisors had exercised the option to bid their own debris work. At $27 per cubic yard, the bid seemed high, but according to County Administrator Charles Miller, Jones County officials had consulted a FEMA representative before accepting the contract. According to Miller, the FEMA representative had stated that under the circumstances the price was reasonable. At the time, the terms of the Army Corps of Engineers’ $500 million agreement with AshBritt were being kept secret. Months later, after averaging all of the locally bid contracts in the state, federal auditors agreed that up to $19.95 per cubic yard was now to be considered “the reasonable” rate. Good faith local decisions made in a time of crisis were now second-guessed. Federal agencies showed their diligence, at least where smaller, locally bid contracts were concerned. Ex post facto standards now applied. As a result, FEMA served Jones County with notice that $2 million of $9 million in its federal debris-removal reimbursements might have to be repaid. County officials were shocked. As Miller put it, “Had we known at the time that the price was too high, we would, of course, have rebid it.” By May of 2007, some 20 percent of the locally bid debris contracts in Mississippi were called into question. Citing consultations with FEMA at the time of the contract, Jones County board member Andy Dial felt betrayed. “It’s ridiculous,” he said. “When you make a promise to help, I think you ought to keep your end of the bargain.” The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency supported Jones County in an appeal. Unfortunately, the state could not buy back the time and effort the county was forced to spend on the appeal.61

A much larger dispute loomed for the Harrison County Board of Supervisors. With almost one-third of the state’s Katrina debris load, Harrison County had the largest debris problem. When the Harrison County Board of Supervisors elected to bid its debris contracts locally, they well understood that in the matter of debris and all other federal “public assistance” projects, vast documentation was required. In Harrison County, the job of maintaining that paper trail fell on the shoulders of County Administrator (p.109) Pam Ulrich. Well schooled in FEMA’s “project worksheet” culture, Ulrich was in the county courthouse keeping the paperwork current “from the time the winds died down,” and she did not leave the office for two weeks after the storm. She ate at work. She slept at work, and her family kept her in clean clothes. Her bosses thought Pam Ulrich was extraordinarily meticulous. There was no hope of FEMA reimbursement without the kind of devotion to documentation that people like Pam Ulrich brought to the job. Board president Connie Rockco recalled seeing assembled in the county administrator’s office a stack of paperwork three feet deep that related to tree removal on a single road.62 All of this care meant that there were no problems with the main parts of the huge Harrison County debris contract. However, the county wound up in a $12 million, four-year dispute with FEMA over reimbursement for work done clearing away some 38,000 unsafe trees—so-called “leaners and hangers”—which the storm left dangling or slanting precariously over some 780 miles of county roadways.63

For the hazardous tree contract, Harrison County hired TCB Construction of Poplarville and also engaged an experienced monitoring company, Florida-based R. W. Beck Disaster Recovery, to handle documentation. Only trees with a 45-degree or greater lean or limbs actually dangling over the right-of-way could be removed. Each of the 38,000 trees or limbs removed was photographed, and its exact GPS location recorded for later verification.64 Months later, in the summer of 2006, when FEMA’s audit process turned to Harrison County, a tangled knot presented itself. In the initial federal auditing sample, FEMA inspectors claimed that they were unable to locate two-thirds of the stumps and trees which the county had paid to have removed. Under these circumstances, $17 million in federal reimbursements were withheld while the discrepancies were probed. Nearly a year later, in May of 2007, federal officials publically announced that they would not reimburse the county for $12 million worth of the work done on the tree contract. Federal documents cited high costs, insufficient quality control, and inadequate documentation for the work.65 These charges called into question the integrity of both the tree contractor and the monitoring company. With millions of dollars riding on the outcome, the accusations set up an immediate adversarial atmosphere. The lapse of time between tree removals and audits could have accounted for the disappearance of some stumps due to overgrowth, fire, rot, or property owner stump grinding. However, such actions were unlikely to account for the FEMA claim that in its samples taken on a dozen county roads, two-thirds of the stumps could not be found.66

(p.110) Connie Rockco, the county board president at the time, recalled that the basis for one FEMA complaint arose from work done on a county route called Allen Road. The auditors had randomly pulled Allen Road without realizing that there were actually three different thoroughfares called Allen Road under county jurisdiction and two additional streets of the same name within the municipalities of Long Beach and Biloxi. In questioning, it became apparent that the federal inspectors did not visit each Allen Road. They had been unaware that there were three such routes, and did not know which route they had actually examined.67 On closer review, it was also demonstrated that federal auditors had not understood TCB’s practice of ticketing major thoroughfares with work also done on off-shooting side streets as well as the route actually named on the document. Fortunately, the monitoring company had photographed and taken GPS locations for each of the more than 30,000 trees that were cut. Thus, repeat audits showed that 98 percent of the trees removed could actually be identified.68

However, as multiple audits supported the county view that its tree counts were accurate, “reasonable costs” became the larger area of dispute. In the county board meeting in which the tree contract was approved, Supervisor Marlin Ladner remembered personally questioning the FEMA debris advisor on the cost formula. FEMA’s man-on-the-spot had been evasive in his answer, but according to Ladner, he had given the board absolutely no indication of any problem. Nonetheless, months later after money had been borrowed and the work completed, FEMA auditors called into question the contract’s provision of a single price per tree regardless of the size of the tree. Harrison County’s price per tree included the cost of hauling the trees off. FEMA’s auditors missed this point in their initial dispute with the county, as they inexplicably assumed that they would find an additional charge for hauling. There was no such additional charge. Still, the dispute continued over whether the overall cost of the contract was “reasonable.” FEMA alleged that on average the TCB charge of $390 per tree was “excessive.” This round of questioning put reimbursement for $11.8 million of a $19 million contract into jeopardy. The potential requirement that the county “pay back” nearly $12 million in federal funds would be a heavy hit for a locality in which a major portion of the ad valorem tax base had been destroyed.69

The county engaged local attorney Tim Holleman to appeal its case. When Holleman sought to compare the Harrison County tree removal charges to the price paid to AshBritt under the Army Corps of Engineers contract, he found that even two years after the fact, the corps still claimed (p.111) that the contracts were privileged and that release of the information would constitute a breach of confidentiality. In congressional testimony, AshBritt had only released its price per cubic yard for ordinary debris removal. It did not release details of its tree contract. If it did not quite take an act of Congress to get the county the information needed to defend itself, it did take the employment of a statistical research firm, CRA International of Washington, D.C. The CRA statistical study demonstrated that TCB Construction’s charges actually fell below the prevailing regional tree removal rate. Working through Congressman Gene Taylor’s office, county officials gathered information indicating that the TCB price was also below Ash-Britt’s charges to the corps for similar work.70

The appeals process involved multiple audits and multiple submissions of voluminous paperwork that was sometimes lost and had to be resubmitted, and the process involved multiple trips to Washington. Meanwhile, the county held up $6 million in payments to TCB. All that company president Jennifer Fagan could do was “hope that it [would] all work out.” Four years after Katrina, the Harrison County Board of Supervisors still did not know whether, or how much, the county might have to repay the federal government for work done in good faith in a time of crisis. County officials were confident that in bidding debris contracts locally they had saved the federal taxpayers significant sums of money. However, the time and effort consumed in audits and appeals made them wonder if saving federal taxpayers money really served the best interests of the disaster victims themselves, who were federal taxpayers but also taxpayers in Harrison County.71

In the spring of 2008, on her eighth trip to Washington, Connie Rockco pointed out to FEMA auditors that county governments “run on taxpayers’ money just like FEMA does.” Rockco asked a simple question: “If a contractor submitted claims illegally, why not just indict them, rather than make the citizens of Harrison County, after all we have gone through, take another hit” from the federal government because of something a contractor did wrong? In Rockco’s view, going back on county decisions taken in good faith at the height of a federal emergency amounted to punishing the victims rather than going after the perpetrators of fraud.72 In their press for accountability, federal auditors were somehow unable to take account of the extreme circumstances in which local cleanup contracts had been executed. Whether intended or not, the combination created a Catch-22 for exhausted local officials.

For the tens of thousands of storm victims who had lost everything, the struggle over contracts seemed only a distant drum beat. After all, it was the (p.112) actual clearing of the massive wreckage that gave victims their first tangible indicator that recovery was under way. For individuals it meant saying final good-byes to the ruined reminders of life prior to Katrina. Like many other Katrina victims, Yvette Gonzales, a 76-year-old widow in Bay St. Louis, wanted to be present when the remains of her home were hauled away. Her hopes that the demolition crews would find an heirloom handmade quilt were disappointed. Still, even in this final moment of disappointment, Mrs. Gonzales was surprised by joy. Working under contracts that had drawn such heated debate in Washington, crewmen employed by an unknown contractor found the miniature bride and groom statue from her 1949 wedding cake. Political furor could not detract from the moment in which a kind-hearted stranger handed a widow such a memento. A New York Times reporter recorded the encounter. “It brings it all back,” the widow said. “It makes you remember those good times.”73

On the individual level, there was much to be grateful for and much to celebrate. Early predictions that removal of the storm wreckage might take from 18 months to five years were proven wrong. In September of 2006, six months ahead of its own initial time estimates, the Army Corps of Engineers announced the completion of land-based debris removal in Mississippi. In the perverse dealings of Mother Nature, the leveling of so many Mississippi Gulf Coast structures in the 30-foot Katrina tidal surge had opened the way for unexpected speed in the cleanup. A year after Katrina, much heartbreaking work still remained in New Orleans, where the structural soundness and demolition of tens of thousands of homes that had for weeks stood in floodwater had yet to be determined. In Mississippi, however, pride could be taken in the fact that the 46-million-cubic-yard volume of storm wreckage had been reduced such that only 10 percent of the state’s prestorm landfill capacity had to be devoted to Katrina debris. Lesser but more difficult work in Mississippi’s wetlands, marshes, and navigable waterways was finished by the end of 2008.74 All of this meant that an important corner had been turned in the recovery. Storm victims could rebuild and get on with their lives. But for those local officials who had stepped up to the plate in the chaos of the Katrina aftermath to make the hard decisions about debris contracts, the celebrations of success were muted. The Washington hullabaloo over the well-connected businesses and lobbying firms behind Army Corps of Engineers contracting had produced a federal bureaucratic backlash of intensified audits. In a curious twist, the energies arising from heated questions about the actions of powerful men in the nation’s capitol had been deflected onto the small actors and ordinary (p.113) citizens at the periphery where atonement was exacted for the suspected sins of the mighty. For many of the jurisdictions that opted to bid the debris contracts on their own, the time and energy later taken up in audits and appeals to unsympathetic functionaries far removed from the destruction called into question the wisdom of trying to save public money through normal local competitive bidding processes. The nation, through the generosity of the Stafford Act, had provided essential recovery funding. However, there was no free grace in the bureaucratic scheme of redemption. Where grace abounded, it was more likely to be seen in sympathetic neighbors or in the hearts of those who came from afar to work as volunteers.

Notes:

(1) . John Simerman, “In Mississippi, Pride Gives Way To Tales of Survival,” Contra Costa Times (California), September 11, 2005, F4.

(2) . Editorial, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 28, 2005, quoted in Knight Ridder/Tribune, “Editorials On Aftermath of Hurricanes,” September 29, 2005, http://www.lexisnexis.com (accessed March 8, 2010).

(p.262) (3) . U. S. Senate, Hurricane Katrina: A Nation Still Unprepared, 37–38.

(4) . S. Heather Duncan, “Removing Debris in Southern Mississippi Could Take 5 Years,” Knight Ridder Washington Bureau, September 10, 2005, http://www.lexisnexis.com. (accessed April 12, 2010).

(5) . Jim Johnson, “Katrina Cleanup May Take 2 Years: Operation Will Be Nation’s Largest,” Waste News, September 26, 2005, 1.

(6) . Betty N. Smith, statements to the author, September 1, 2005, and November 20, 2008.

(7) . Trudy Fisher, “Report on Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality Disaster Debris Management Efforts After Hurricane Katrina,” Mississippi Law Journal 77.3 (March 18, 2008): 844–845.

(8) . Ibid., 845–850.

(9) . Ibid.; and Jim Johnson, “Mississippi Employs ‘Emergency Landfills,’” Waste News, January 30, 2006, 13.

(10) . Reverend Guss Shelly, interview by James Pat Smith, June 6, 2007 (USM KOH).

(11) . Ibid.

(12) . Ibid.

(13) . White House Press Release, “A New Mississippi: Rebuilding In Wake of Hurricane Katrina,” States News Service, August 28, 2006, http://www.lexisnexis.com (accessed April 13, 2010).

(14) . Ibid.

(15) . James Walke, director, FEMA Public Assistance Division, written testimony, Hearing of the United States Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Subcommittee On Disaster Recovery, July 10, 2007, 2–3.

(16) . Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act of 1974, Public Law 93-288, [May 22, 1974], 88 Stat. 143 (42 U.S. Code 5173).

(17) . Mayor Leo “Chipper” McDermott, interview by James Pat Smith, March 14, 2008 (USM KOH).

(18) . Marlin Ladner, interview by James Pat Smith, June 24, 2008 (USM KOH); Constance “Connie” Rockco, interview by James Pat Smith, June 23, 2008 (USM KOH); Michael Newsom, “Cleanup Moves to Private Property,” Sun Herald (Biloxi-Gulfport), September 15, 2005; and Eric Lipton, “On Gulf Coast, Cleanup Differs Town to Town,” New York Times, December 26, 2005, National Desk A-1.

(19) . Gordon Russell and James Varney, “From Blue Tarps to Debris Removal, Layers of Contractors Drive Up the Cost of Recovery, Critics Say,” Times-Picayune (New Orleans), December 29, 2005, National Section A-1; and Leslie Eaton, “After Huricanes Come Tempests Over Cleanups,” New York Times, February 24, 2006, A-1.

(20) . Larry Margasak, “Report: Katrina Contractors Bilk Taxpayers,” Associated Press Online, May 4, 2006, http://www.lexisnexis.com (accessed November 11, 2008).

(21) . Eric Lipton and Ron Nixon, “Many Contracts For Storm Work Raise Questions,” New York Times, September 26, 2005, A-1; and Michael Kunzelman “Coastal Communities Complain About FEMA,” Associated Press Online, May 7, 2007, http://www.lexisnexis.com (accessed April 13, 2009).

(22) . Jeffrey Sparshott, “Businesses Assess Harm, Start Fixes,” Washington Times, September 9, 2005, A-1.

(23) . Adam Geller, “AP Centerpiece: At Bottom of Contract Food Chain, Haulers Scramble for a Share,” Associated Press, October 23, 2005, http://www.lexisnexis.com (accessed November 11, 2008).

(p.263) (24) . Ibid.

(25) . Gordon Russell and James Varney, “From Blue Tarps to Debris Removal, Layers of Contractors Drive Up the Cost of Recovery, Critics Say,” Times-Picayune (New Orleans), December 29, 2005, National Section, 1.

(26) . Hope Yen, “Katrina’s Big Contracts Go to Companies in Political Loop,” Associated Press, October 19, 2005; and Hope Yen, “A Month After Pledge, FEMA Has Yet To Reopen No-Bid,” Associated Press, November 11, 2005, http://www.lexisnexis.com (accessed November 8, 2008).

(27) . Renae Merle and Griff Witte, “Katrina Recovery Officials Unsure What’s Been Spent; Lack of Detail Irks House Panel Members,” Washington Post, November 3, 2005, D-1.

(28) . Associated Press report, no byline, “Army Corps to Require Contracts to Be Awarded to Miss. Companies,” Associated Press State and Local Wire, December 28, 2005, http://www.lexisnexis.com (accessed April 10, 2010).

(29) . Hope Yen, “Political Ties Are Linked To Contracts,” Sun Herald (Biloxi-Gulfport), October 20, 2005, B-6 and B-10.

(30) . Adam Geller, “AP Centerpiece: At Bottom of Contract Food Chain, Haulers Scramble for a Share,” Associated Press State and Local Wire, October 21, 2005, http://www.lexisnexis.com (accessed April 10, 2010).

(31) . Leslie Eaton, “After Hurricanes Come Tempests Over Cleanups,” New York Times, February 24, 2006, A-1; and “Corps Cancels Necaise’s New Mississippi Debris Contract,” Associated Press, undated copy posted at Construction Equipment Guide.Com., http://www.constructionequipmentguide.com (accessed June 4, 2009).

(32) . Debbie Burt Meyers, “William Yates Discusses Company’s Role During, After Katrina,” Neshoba Democrat (Mississippi), October 25, 2006, 2, http://www.neshobademocrat.com (accessed May 31, 2008); Michael Newsom, “Cleanup Moves to Private Property,” Sun Herald (Biloxi-Gulfport), September 15, 2005; “Shallow Waters Show Debris Lining Mississippi Coastal Beach, Associated Press State and Local Wire, November 23, 2005, http://www.lexisnexis.com (accessed June 4, 2009); and Michael Bell, “County Seeks Allies vs. FEMA, Sun Herald (Biloxi-Gulfport), November 28, 2007, A-6.

(33) . Eric Lipton, “On Gulf Coast, Cleanup Differs Town to Town,” New York Times, December 26, 2005, National Desk, A-1.

(34) . Karen Nelson, “October 28 Deadline Nears On Trash Removal,” Sun Herald (Biloxi-Gulfport), October 18, 2005, A-3; Karen Nelson and Geoff Pender, “Barbour Lobbies Washington On Trash, Sun Herald (Biloxi-Gulfport), October 19, 2005, A-9; and FEMA Press Release, “On-Going Debris Removal Mounts Up,” October 22, 2005, release number 1604-088.

(35) . Ibid.

(36) . Ibid.

(37) . Ibid.

(38) . Renae Merle, “4 Firms Hired to Clear Debris in Gulf Coast,” Washington Post, September 16, 2005, A-20.

(39) . Kevin McCoy, “Contracts for Recovery Work Raise Controversy,” USA Today, September 15, 2005, 4-B.

(40) . Edward Epstein, “Peninsula Firm Wins Cleanup Contract; Environmental Chemical of Burlingame Could Collect $1 Billion During Next Two Years,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 20, 2005, A-10.

(p.264) (41) . Renae Merle, “4 Firms Hired to Clear Debris in Gulf Coast,” Washington Post, September 16, 2005, A-20.

(42) . Edward Epstein, “Peninsula Firm Wins Cleanup Contract; Environmental Chemical of Burlingame Could Collect $1 Billion During Next Two Years,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 20, 2005, A-10.

(43) . Eric Lipton and Ron Nixon, “Many Contractors for Storm Work Raise Questions,” New York Times, September 26, 2005, A-1; and Hope Yen, “Katrina’s Big Contracts Go To Companies in Political Loop, Associated Press Business News, October 19, 2005, http://www.lexisnexis.com (accessed November 11, 2008).

(44) . Emily Wagster Pettus, “Barbour Cuts Ties With Lobbying Firm,” Associated Press State and Local Wire, January 14, 2004, http://www.lexisnexis.com (accessed April 29, 2010).

(45) . Charlie Mitchell, “Is Barbour Profiting From Katrina?” Sun Herald (Biloxi-Gulfport), September 12, 2007, C-5.

(46) . Emily Wagster Pettus, “Miss. Governor Under Fire Over Holdings,” Associated Press Online, October 4, 2007; and “Mississippi Governor Ready to Take Off?” The Hotline, September 28, 2007, http://www.lexisnexis.com (accessed April 29, 2010).

(47) . Tory Newmyer, “For Gov. Barbour, D.C. Ties Are Proving Vital,” Roll Call, October 24, 2005, http://www.lexisnexis.com. (accessed October 31, 2008).

(48) . Eric Lipton and Ron Nixon, “Many Contractors for Storm Work Raise Questions,” New York Times, September 26, 2005, A-1.

(49) . Editorial, “A Hurricane Of Peculation In the Gulf,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 28, 2005, B-8.

(50) . Tom Engelhardt and Nick Turse, “The Reconstruction of New Iraq,” Thenation. com, September 13, 2005, reprinted in Betsy Reed et al., Unnatural Disaster: The Nation on Hurricane Katrina (New York: Basic Books, 2006), 100–106.

(51) . Hope Yen, “Katrina’s Big Contracts Go To Companies In the Political Loop,” Associated Press, October 19, 2005, http://www.lexisnexis.com (accessed April 10, 2010).

(52) . Edward Epstein, “FEMA Plans To Reopen $1.5 Billion in No-Bid Contracts,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 7, 2005, A-6.

(53) . Lara Jakes Jordan, “FEMA Pledges to Reassess Contracts Awarded Without Competitive Bidding,” Associated Press Business News, October 6, 2005, http://www.lexisnexis.com (accessed November 8, 2008).

(54) . FEMA News Release, “Another Milestone in Recovery: FEMA Completed Marine Debris Operations In Harrison, Hancock Counties,” March 9, 2009, release number 1604-704.

(55) . “FEMA Assistance,” Mobile Register, January 4, 2010, A-4.

(56) . Marlin Ladner, interview by James Pat Smith, June 24, 2008 (USM KOH).

(57) . Vincent Creel, interview by James Pat Smith, March 19, 2008 (USM KOH).

(58) . Ibid.

(59) . Mayor A. J. Holloway, interview by Stephen Sloan, January 18, 2007 (USM KOH).

(60) . Ibid.

(61) . Michael Kunzelman, “Coastal Counties Complain About FEMA,” Associated Press Online, May 7, 2007, http://www.lexisnexis.com (accessed April 13, 2009).

(62) . Constance “Connie” Rockco, interview by James Pat Smith, June 23, 2008 (USM KOH).

(63) . Ibid.

(p.265) (64) . Ibid.; and Marlin Ladner, interview by James Pat Smith, June 24, 2008 (USM KOH).

(65) . Michael Kunzelman, “Coastal Communities Complain About FEMA,” Associated Press Online, May 7, 2007, http://lexisnexis.com (accessed April 13, 2009).

(66) . Ibid.; and Michael A. Bell, “County Appeals FEMA’s Decision,” Sun Herald (Biloxi-Gulfport), October 4, 2007, A-4.

(67) . Constance “Connie” Rockco, interview by James Pat Smith, June 23, 2008 (USM KOH).

(68) . Marlin Ladner, interview by James Pat Smith, June 24, 2008 (USM KOH).

(69) . Ibid.; Constance “Connie” Rockco, interview by James Pat Smith, June 23, 2008 (USM KOH); and Michael Kunzelman, “FEMA Won’t Reimburse $12M, Debris Removal: Quality, Cost Doubted,” Sun Herald (Biloxi-Gulfport), September 12, 2007, A-1 and A-8.

(70) . Ibid.; Michael A. Bell, “County Appeals FEMA’s Decision,” Sun Herald (Biloxi-Gulfport), October 4, 2007, A-4; and Michael A. Bell, “County Seeks Allies Vs. FEMA,” Sun Herald (Biloxi-Gulfport), November 28, 2007, A-6.

(71) . Ibid.

(72) . Constance “Connie” Rockco, interview by James Pat Smith, June 23, 2008 (USM KOH).

(73) . Eric Lipton, “On Gulf Coast, Cleanup Differs Town To Town,” New York Times, December 26, 2005, A-1.

(74) . Jim Johnson, “Much Work Remains in Katrina Cleanup,” Waste News, September 11, 2006, 1; and Department of Homeland Security, “Hurricane Katrina Mississippi Recovery Update: November, 2008,” http://www.lexisnexis.com (accessed April 10, 2010).