[StBernard] LRA endorses N.O., St. Bernard rebuilding plans

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Tue Jun 26 21:10:32 EDT 2007

LRA endorses N.O., St. Bernard rebuilding plans
Advocate New Orleans bureau
Published: Jun 26, 2007 - Page: 8A

The Louisiana Recovery Authority approved New Orleans' and St. Bernard
Parish's hurricane rebuilding plans Monday, paving the way for the city and
parish to receive $117 million and $26 million, respectively, in federal
grants for critical infrastructure repairs.

On an even larger scale, the LRA's approval also qualifies New Orleans to
receive another $324 million from the recent waiver of the 10 percent match
for FEMA-reimbursed projects.

New Orleans needs every penny it can get because the price tag on its
strategic recovery and redevelopment plan, which focuses on 17 target areas
in the city, is $1.1 billion.

"We were literally without money, so $117 million is a big step,'' New
Orleans recovery czar Ed Blakely told reporters at the State Capitol.

Local governments cannot receive the money as a lump sum.

Instead, federal law requires the state Office of Community Development to
disburse it on a project-by-project basis. Blakely told the LRA board that
he plans to borrow the money from a private bank so officials can access it
immediately for recovery projects in the target zones. As the city is
reimbursed, the loan will be repaid, he said.

St. Bernard Parish President Henry "Junior'' Rodriguez said the financially
strapped parish does not have the clout to borrow $26 million, so it finds
itself "caught between a rock and a hard place.'' How can the parish get
reimbursed for hurricane repair projects if it does not have the money to
spend on those projects, he asked.

"If we don't get this money, we're in bad shape,'' Rodriguez said. "I hope
if we borrow money we won't have to pay interest on it.''
In other action Monday, the LRA voted to shift more than $627 million in
federal funds to the cash-starved "Road Home'' homeowner grant program. The
shifting boosts to about $1 billion the amount of state money committed to
plugging a Road Home shortfall estimated at between $4.4 billion and $5

The LRA voted to spend $300 million previously directed to a new charity
hospital in New Orleans and more than $277 million for state building
repairs that FEMA will not reimburse.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco and key state lawmakers have agreed to access state
coffers to cover those costs.

In addition to those reallocations, the Legislature has set aside $373
million for Road Home, and the LRA on Monday voted to move $50 million out
of several other recovery areas - including the Road Home rental housing
program - to help close the homeowners shortfall.

The Legislature must approve that change.

Barring intervention, LRA Executive Director Andy Kopplin said the $7.5
billion Road Home program is expected to run out of money at the end of

As far as the $117 million and $26 million expected to be headed to New
Orleans and St. Bernard, respectively, the U.S. Department of Housing and
Urban Development still must approve those recovery plans.

New Orleans City Councilwoman Cynthia Willard-Lewis, whose district includes
the hard-hit Lower 9th Ward and eastern New Orleans areas, said the timing
of the LRA's approval of the city's recovery plan was crucial.

"This is the summer of decision-making,'' she said of residents still
displaced by Katrina but hoping to return.

Blakely called the city's redevelopment blueprint "an outstanding urban
plan'' and said, "we are marching forward.'' The $1.1 billion targeted
redevelopment plan calls for rebuilding the devastated Lower 9th and eastern
New Orleans areas.

In terms of priorities for the $117 million, the city's redevelopment plan
intends to use $30 million on city roads and infrastructure, $20 million on
school facilities and programs, $20 million on community facilities, and $20
million on economic development and job programs, he said.

"We're going to leverage every penny we get,'' he added.

The $117 million is part of $200 million in Community Development Block
Grant money that 23 parishes hit by hurricanes Katrina and Rita will share.

St. Bernard's portion is $26 million.

St. Bernard's recovery plan covers infrastructure and transportation,
housing, economic development, public health and health care, the
environment, public safety, education and coastal protection.

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