|The New Orleans Municipal Yacht Harbor Management Corporation (MYHMC), a public benefit corporation of the City of New Orleans, leases and manages all of the City's property at West End – the property located between the New Basin Canal & the 17th Street Canal, outside of the levee/flood wall, except for Orleans Marina (and the surrounding boathouses and businesses), SYC and a sliver of Jefferson Parish along the 17th Street Canal.|
A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
It will be easier to follow this explanation if you have first looked at the chart posted on this website titled FEMA Process Steps (January 18, 2012). That chart depicts the 15 primary waypoints along the path of a FEMA claim – from Katrina to the end. The FEMA claims at West End are now at various stages along that path, as discussed below.
Where Each Claim Stands Today
There are six FEMA claims at West End, as some of the PWs have been combined. Those claims and their current status are as follows:
· Harbor Claim: MYHMC is working with the professionals to finalize and improve on the claim supports previously developed. The City and MYHMC have been working with FEMA on resolving some of the larger disputed issue areas. The testing has been completed in the harbor with regard to the mooring pilings. Once the primary disputed parts are drawn together in a fashion where the City has put its best foot forward in the claim, the overall claim as to the harbor can be resolved with FEMA. We are getting closer, though it a step by step process.
We anticipate advancing to active negotiations with FEMA by the end of the first quarter 2012. Though no one can predict with certainty, should things go smoothly, there is a potential for a settlement to be reached prior to the third quarter 2012(Step 6). The professionals tell us that Steps 7 through 13 (harbor restoration completed) will take about two years. MYHMC has told all concerned that is unacceptably long and is working with the City and the professionals on how it can shortened.
Extrapolate that and this is what you get: (i) claim settlement reached and papered – July 1, 2012; (ii) add 15 months for design, contracting and construction phases – yielding an October 1, 2013 harbor opening. Ambitious or too slow? Depends on your point of view but safer to be thinking ambitious. Will these predictions change as time passes? Sure, stay up with these updates.
. Administration Building Claim: The restoration work is nearing completion. After a prolonged absence from West End, the staff is back in the MYHMC offices. Landscaping and sidewalk work will follow. It is anticipated that all work will be completed by March 1, 2012.
· MYHMC Boathouses Claim: This involves Boathouse #93 and #31, both owned by MYHMC. Number 93 houses the fireboat. The professionals have redone the claim, based upon updated damage assessments by the engineers. FEMA has agreed to pay for replacements(instead of repairs). There is a $615,000 pending FEMA obligation for replacements. The project is in Design Development; Preparation of construction documents is scheduled to start on 2/9/12.
· Fishing Pier/Boat Launch Claim: FEMA has obligated $402,000. The project is in Design Development. Construction Documents, due 2/2/12. In conjunction with the Master Plan that MYHMC is working on, there is some possibility that the fishing pier might ultimately be rebuilt facing north, rather than west. But, remains to be seen and will only be resolved as MYHMC brings the FEMA claim to closure and gets to a point where the Master Plan has been properly vetted in a public process, and has been approved. A public meeting on the Master Plan will be held on January 31, 2012.
· Breakwater Drive Claim: There is a substantial claim for damage to the shoreline in the north/south run of Breakwater Drive. FEMA has currently obligated $2,241,000. The project is on hold pending Master Plan approval. The actual rebuilding of that stretch, however, is a subject for the Master Plan process that is currently under way. As that stretch of land is right on the Parish line, the Master Plan process for that area is being worked on with the Regional Planning Commission, with public meetings anticipated this year.
· West End Park Claim: This claim involves a variety of damaged facilities in the Park. But the primary issue from a monetary perspective was restoring the electrical system supporting the lights. That part of the claim has been resolved, $397,000 is pending FEMA obligation. This means that FEMA has agreed to fund the project. The project is in Bid phase; bid award is expected 3/5/12. Some final details are being negotiated with FEMA on a couple of relatively modest points. (Step 7). The West End Park work is likely to be concluded in the first half of 2012.
Prior to the change in administrations, it was reasonably clear that for the foreseeable future there was not going to be enough money available to pay for the harbor restoration, whether FEMA ultimately would reimburse the City or not. Under the current administration, in contrast, the largest West End claims have been put on the City’s “Priority List”. That means that if we can reach a settlement with FEMA on a claim, like the harbor claim, the City will have the money to pay for the construction. That is an enormous step forward.
Three Years to Get City Claim Moving (August 2005 – August 2008)
First a word on timing: Within the year after Katrina, FEMA created its Project Worksheets (PWs) (Step 2), setting forth what FEMA concluded had been damaged or destroyed and what it would cost to repair or replace those items (PWs as to the harbor, West End Park, two MYHMC boathouses, the fishing pier, the boat launch, Breakwater Drive and the Administration Building). The City was then given the opportunity to counter each PW with its own position paper – called a Comprehensive Damage Report (CDR) (Step 3), setting forth what the City believed to be damaged or destroyed and what it would cost to repair or replace those items. However, in order for the City to be able to prepare CDRs it was necessary for the City to have enough money to hire the required professionals. By August of 2008 the City had been given enough money to do that. About eight months later, in March of 2009, the City’s professionals finalized the CDRs for West End and they were delivered to FEMA. That set the stage for FEMA to evaluate the City’s positions and for the two parties to negotiate with one another (on a claim by claim basis). So, the real interaction with FEMA as to the West End claims started three and a half years after the storm.Claim Delivered to FEMA – But Initial Dialogue Inconclusive (August 2008 to fall 2010)
By December of 2009 FEMA had gotten back to the City with substantial information in response to the City’s positions and a variety of meetings and discussions between FEMA and the City were taking place. The City had not allowed MYHMC to play any meaningful role in the FEMA claim process to that point.
At about that time, an agreement was reached between FEMA and the City as to the Administration Building (Steps 5 and 6) and the City proceeded forward with design, developing project documents and obtaining bids (Steps 7 and 8). Some issues arose with regard to the contractor, delaying the contracting process (Step 10), but toward the end of 2010, the contract was in place and construction had commenced. It is hoped that construction will be concluded by March 2012. The MYHMC offices are located in the Administration Building.
As to the balance of the claims, the City and its professionals began to dig into the issues where the City and FEMA did not agree. At about that time (the first half of 2010 – four and a half years after the storm) there was a change in administrations and with it substantial changes (improvements) in the way FEMA claims are managed within City government.
New Administration Brings New Approach: MYHMC Given a Leadership Role in the Claims (Fall 2010)
By the fall of 2010 the City had reached the conclusion that it would be best for MYHMC to take over responsibility for negotiating the remaining FEMA claims at West End to settlement with FEMA (up through Step 6), with the City taking over again for all of the remaining steps – design through construction (Steps 7 through 15).
At that point things began to move much more quickly. Issues with the claims were identified and additional professionals were retained. The State, through GOHSEP (our negotiators with FEMA), are now much more directly engaged in the claim development process, which will mean that our claims are better prepared and more effectively presented. Each claim is now moving forward on a defined and accelerated path. The focus is on the finish line – getting the harbor restored – not on process for the sake of process, as can happen with government. The objective is to move rapidly, but intelligently – no stretching on claims, but making sure no valid claims are lost because of haste. Where things previously took months to move, now they move more rapidly. At every monthly meeting of the MYHMC Board, more and more action items as to these claims come to the Board, while more and more activity is reported. We are moving from things being complicated, unsettled, incomplete and lacking a strategy to things moving toward decision points with our case properly prepared and presented.
Would it be better if this had all happened three or four years ago? Sure. But, this is the hand we have been dealt. We are going to keep our energy in advancing effectively from here, not groaning about why it took so long to get here. We are lucky to have a situation where government finally supports progress on these claims and getting West End rebuilt.
It is pretty easy (and when one is frustrated, it is tempting) to sit back and take shots – particularly if not burdened by the facts. So, if the latest rumor you heard sounds like this, here are the facts so that you are not left to rely upon misinformation:
(1) MYTH – THE HARBOR IS ALREADY DESIGNED
Myth: “They” have designed the new harbor and have never consulted “us.”
Reality: No one yet knows whether that will involve repairing the existing concrete piers or replacing them with a floating pier system. That will depend upon how the claim is resolved. Toward the end of 2009 it appeared there might be a chance for the harbor claim to move more rapidly than it had. That inspired some initial discussion, roughing out some drawings and informal discussions with stakeholders regarding what a harbor layout might look like if we were in a replacement scenario (perhaps using floating docks) versus a repair scenario. But, fairly soon it became apparent that the claim was not moving on that sort of accelerated path and that we were a long way from knowing whether we would be repairing the existing docks or replacing them. Consequently, all design efforts ended at that point and they will not be restarted until after the FEMA claim is settled, hence when we know whether we are paying for the right sort of design (repair or replacement).
Unfortunately, that seems to have resulted in people thinking that “they” are still working away at some sort of design. We could only wish we were that far. The reality is that nobody is working on any sort of design and will not be doing so until we know where this is headed. However, once the design process commences, there will be a public component to that, allowing for substantive interaction with the stakeholders and substantive stakeholder input.
(2) MYTH – THE CITY DOES NOT CARE
Myth: The City does not care about West End because it is perceived as being just a playground for the elite.
Reality: The City’s “Priority List” matters and West End is on it. The present administration has put meaningful people and resources behind getting West End – and the harbor – fixed. But, West End needs to have amenities that serve the City as a whole and it will. A Master Plan accomplishing that will be a reality – West End will serve everyone.
(3) MYTH – MYHMC HAS THE WRONG PRIORITIES
Myth: Every time MYHMC approves taking some action in its operations – approving a contract for one thing or another – it means that has become its top “priority” and that such a mundane activity is being given priority over getting the harbor reopened.
Reality: People really can walk and chew gum at the same time. Normal operations continue while the FEMA claims are being prosecuted.(4) MYTH – HOLDING OUT FOR A CADILLAC
Myth: The City and the MYHMC Board have turned down a fair offer by FEMA to “repair” the harbor facilities vs. “replace” the harbor facilities (the more dramatic version of the myth actually places the money in the City’s hands – unused for years).
Reality: FEMA’s current formal position is for far less than it would take to do a duct tape repair of the harbor facilities. The parties are well apart on large financial issues. The City needs better evidence, hence the work of professionals, to end up where it deserves to end up and can end up. That has been the focus of MYHMC since it was invited into the process by the new administration in the fall of 2010. (By the way, FEMA gives you no money until you have already built it – a reimbursement, not cash up front, system).
(5) MYTH - "MASTER PLAN", WALKING AND CHEWING GUM
Myth: Action on a broader "Master Plan" for West End is a waste of time until the harbor is restored. Until then, it is a distractin from getting the harbor restored.
Reality: The FEMA claims are progressing on their own path (and are moving forward). Rebuilding that infrastructure, including the harbor, is unrelated to planning for the rest of West End. Planning and then executing on such plans for West End -over and above the FEMA restoration -will take a while. Putting off a West End Master Plan merely sets West End back -for no reason.
(6) MYTH – THE CITY TOOK $750,000 TO $800,000 OUT OF MYHMC’S ACCOUNTSMyth: The City took $750,000 to $800,000 out of MYHMC’s accounts and has not given it back.
Reality: In 2006 the City leased all of its property rights at West End to MYHMC, removed the Department of Property Management from the picture and subsequently allowed MYHMC to move its cash from the segregated City accounts to accounts with Capital One and LAMP, solely under the control of MYHMC, not the City. Prior to the City’s transfer of MYHMC funds in accounts established solely for MYHMC, MYHMC commissioned an audit by the respected accounting firm of Postlethwaite & Netterville, with a specific focus on determining the fate of those funds. It was determined they had never been transferred to the City and, indeed, were subsequently transferred to the MYHMC accounts. In short the rumor is simply wrong.