By Cyndi Sellers
Debris removal and substantial damage letters were items of intense discussion at last week’s Cameron Parish Police Jury agenda meeting. The Parish has set Jan. 11 as the date for the final debris removal pass to begin on parish roads. In his last meeting as President, Sonny McGee said some people still haven’t heard from their insurance companies, and he asked how far the date could be pushed back.
Parish Administrator Katie Armentor explained that FEMA has set a firm ending date of Feb. 28 for all debris pickup, so crews need to get started soon in order to finish by that date. She said the trucks can begin in areas that are mostly cleaned up, such as Holly Beach, and move last to the areas farther behind, which should help. She also said that the parish will try to work with people who have problems, but that the program was not intended for house demolitions. Rather, it is for loose debris that was scattered around and for house contents.
Armentor said the parish has identified about 50,000 cubic yards of debris already on the roadside, with more probably to come, so they need to start soon to get it all picked up by the FEMA deadline. An extension has been applied for, but approval is not certain. A possible Private Property Debris Removal program, funded by FEMA, may be in place in the future for houses and trees, but the application cannot be submitted until all roadside debris is picked up and an assessment can be made.
Sheriff Ron Johnson asked if a schedule of where the trucks will be on a weekly basis could be posted, and Armentor agreed. McGee said people should move everything except the house to the road, since insurance companies do not require contents to be kept. People shouldn’t wait until the last minute to move debris, Armentor said, because if there isn’t enough work the trucks will go elsewhere and there won’t be enough left to meet the deadline.
The Parish has been billed $18 million so far for debris removal, though only $5 million has been paid out. FEMA reimbursement is a slow process. If the Parish runs out of money, it will have to suspend debris operations, as some parishes have already had to do, Armentor said.
The final date for DOTD to pick up debris from state highways is Jan. 31.
Substantial Damage Letters
The Parish Permit Office is sending out letters notifying homeowners of determinations of “substantial damage” by FEMA. “Substantial damage” means more than 50 percent damage and would require those in a coastal flood zone to meet base flood elevation when they repair or rebuild. Kara Bonsall said FEMA hired a contractor to make the assessments, and of 2,800 properties assessed 1,500 were found top be over 50 percent.
Scott Trahan said the contractor did “a horrible job,” based on his own experience. The contractor used a Substantial Damage Estimate (SDE) tool using the cost of repair and market value. Market value was based on assessed value, however, which is often lower than actual market value, and that is why so many were over 50 percent. The contractor also did not go inside houses because of COVID concerns, and if there was a blue tarp on the roof, they considered the roof and interior a total loss.
Bonsall said many have the option of protesting the assessment. A standard pre-storm market value is $125 per square foot for residential or $325 per square foot for commercial properties. An estimated cost of repair can be obtained from a licensed contractor, architect, or engineer. “We will work with owners diligently,” Bonsall said.