Congress members seek more time to use Orleans Katrina aid

June 20, 2022 GMT

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Members of Congress from Louisiana are calling for federal officials to extend deadlines for spending Hurricane Katrina recovery funds on New Orleans road and water infrastructure projects.

Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy and Rep. Troy Carter have released a joint letter outlining reasons for extending the time to spend the $2 billion by August 2023, The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reported.

The letter states that “a cursory understanding of Hurricane Katrina’s magnitude and impact on New Orleans, as well as subsequent storms and events make a compelling case” for an extension.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration has acknowledged it cannot meet the deadline, which was established under a 2015 settlement with FEMA made during former Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration.

The city’s infrastructure chief, Joseph Threat, said Cantrell’s administration plans to request extensions on a project-by-project basis over the next year.

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The Katrina funds are the primary source of a citywide construction program totaling more than 200 projects. Threat said the city has spent about half the FEMA money.

Construction delays have infuriated residents as City Hall and contractors have pointed fingers at one another.

“It’s a host of individual extensions that are rolling,” Threat said, adding that he did not know how many projects would need extensions.

Extension requests must come from the state. State officials said Friday they are working with the Cantrell administration to compile the voluminous documentation needed to support the city’s extension requests.

Threat said Friday that spiraling prices resulting from inflation have caused additional challenges.

“I’ve had several – five to 10 bids – come back that I couldn’t even award because they were 300% over the budget,” Threat said.

The city’s prospects for extensions are uncertain. A FEMA spokesperson said Friday the agency “may grant extensions to individual projects based on demonstrated work, such as contracts awarded for construction,” adding that it would “not grant an extension for all public assistance projects for Hurricane Katrina.”