NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Department of Homeland Security has decided New Orleans can keep $2 billion in Federal Emergency Management Agency grants approved to fix sewers and water pipes damaged by Hurricane Katrina, U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond said Friday.
The department’s inspector general’s office released an audit last July saying FEMA should take back the money because the pipes were in bad shape before the 2005 storm, and the city lacked paperwork to prove damages were disaster-related.
The department recently told its inspector general’s office not to act on the audit, so the city can use the money, Richmond, a Louisiana Democrat, said in a news release.
“I said all along that the OIG’s conclusion was simply wrong. I’m glad that the Department agreed with what countless experts, local officials, and my colleagues in Congress knew instead of Monday-morning quarterbacks who showed up years after the disaster,” he said.
Mayor LaToya Cantrell said she’s glad to have the matter resolved, and looks forward to moving ahead quickly with the work.
“Since taking office on May 7th, we have been working diligently with our federal partners in the expectation that this day would come,” she said in a news release.
FEMA said last July that it disagreed with the audit.
An agency spokesman confirmed Richmond’s statement Friday, The New Orleans Advocate reported.
“This decision concludes that FEMA acted appropriately and within its authority when awarding these funds,” FEMA spokeswoman Jenny Burke wrote in an email.
In addition to fixing the pipes, the money will cover repairing streets afterward.
The city had continued to use it, though projects were moving much more slowly than expected because of federal regulations and difficulty coordinating between New Orleans’ Sewerage & Water Board and its Department of Public Works, the newspaper reported.