Parish looking to help those with tree damage

Deidre Cruse

The Iberville Parish government has state approval for a program that will allow parish crews to help owners clear storm-damaged trees on private property, but still needs an okay from federal authorities, Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso Jr. said.

Ourso has been trying to get the parish certified for what is called the “right of entry” program that will allow public crews to help property owners clear trees past the public rights of way.

In his report to the Iberville Parish Council last week, Ourso said a contractor hired to collect storm debris had collected 175,000 cubic yards of the stuff by last Tuesday. The contractor is expected to make its final rounds of the parish this week, he said.

Ourso said the first bill for collecting the storm debris would come in at between $1.5 million and $1.7 million, and could top $2 million by the time the project is complete. The federal government is expected to pay 75 percent of the cost, with the state and local governments picking up the remaining 25 percent.

The parish president said he had met last week with representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and that he was trying to get federal help in cleaning up storm damage in Bayou Grosse Tete and Bayou Plaquemine, where there was substantial tree damage from Hurricane Gustav.

He also said he and other parish officials from Iberville and three other parishes had met last Tuesday with a representative of the Louisiana Recovery Association.

The state expects to get some $3 billion to share with 43 hurricane affected parishes to use for economic development, housing, infrastructure and mitigation, Ourso said, adding he did not know how much money Iberville might be in line for.

“There will be strict guidelines about what this money can be used for,” he said.

Parish Finance Director Randall Dunn told the council that, for the first time in seven years, he would not get the proposed 2009 budget to them on time.

The budget is 90 percent complete, but he still needs figures on storm-related costs before he can finish the document, Dunn said.

“This is the worst possible time that this could happen,” Dunn said of the timing of Hurricane Gustav, which struck on September 1.

Parish Attorney Scott Stassi said the parish would be able to supply parish council members with hand-held radios to use during emergencies.

“Hopefully, this will alleviate some of the problems with cell phones,” Stassi said, noting the difficulty many had with cellular service in the aftermath of Gustav.

He said individual council members can purchase their own stickers to identify the personal vehicles when they pick up emergency supplies to take back to their communities.

“I don’t think the law would allow us to purchase [those],” Stassi said.

The stickers will not allow the councilmen the same type of access as law enforcement officers have during emergencies, he said.