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No answers in storm debris collection fiasco






















The devastation caused by Tropical Storm Allison in early June will take months, perhaps years to overcome. Throughout the city, residents are still dealing with losses, physical, financial and emotional. The good news is that, in most places, the focus now is on recovering and rebuilding.
Not in northeast Houston.

In northeast Houston, many residents are still trying to dig out from under the piles of rotting debris that line the streets in neighborhoods throughout the area.

As reported last week, Precinct 1 Commissioner El Franco Lee has cut back debris collection to two days a week. Precinct 2 Commissioner Jim Fonteno has discontinued it completely.

Why? The job is nowhere near finished.

Last week, Fonteno’s office told me that it was because the FEMA money to reimburse the county for debris collection had run out. That is not true.
My conversation with Ben Patterson, State Public Assistance Officer with Texas Department of Public Safety Division of Emergency Management Assigned to the FEMA Disaster Field Office (his title) in Austin confirmed what I learned last week from Opal Jackson: FEMA money to pick up storm debris is still available and will be for three more months.

The Commissioners don’t even have to make application; they are already in the system.
My question to Jackie Grogan of Precinct 1 and David Floyd of Precinct 2 was why? If FEMA will cover 75% of the cost and the job must be done, why would the commissioners choose not to do it?
I have yet to receive a satisfactory answer.

Late last week, State Representative Kevin Bailey’s assistant Arlene Nichols, joined me and Opal Jackson who is a local FEMA representative, in trying to get both answers and action. We had no luck.

In Precinct 1, some debris was picked up on Thursday and Friday and it appears that Commissioner Lee is making a sincere effort to address the problem. But even he must realize that at a two-day-a-week pace, the all clear is nowhere in sight.

If you have storm debris (not construction debris and not household trash) that still needs to be picked up call Commissioner Lee’s office at 713-755-6111 or Commissioner Fonteno at 713-755-6220. Then call again. Set you clock and call every hour on the hour.

And, while you’re on the phone, ask the commissioner why he chooses to forego the help FEMA is offering when there is still so much work to be done.

Maybe you can get an answer. I couldn’t.