What Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor wanted the Easter Bunny to bring him.
South Mississippi Living 4/07

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

FEMA to reimburse Aquarium for replacing fish lost in Katrina

A senior FEMA official has reversed the denial of a request by the Aquarium of the Americas to be reimbursed $99,766 for replacing fish killed in 2005 during Hurricane Katrina.

Federal Emergency Management Agency regional officials had denied the request after estimating the cost of getting replacements for the 3,000 dead fish from commercial sources would be $616,849. FEMA officials determined the fish were "one of a kind" items similar to lost works of art and declared them ineligible for reimbursement.

The aquarium appealed the initial denial, reducing its request for reimbursement to the actual costs involved in its own expeditions to capture fish and of collecting fish donated by other aquariums.

FEMA denied the revised request for the same reasons, a decision affirmed earlier this year by FEMA Regional Administrator William Peterson.

But in a Nov. 20 letter, FEMA Assistant Administrator Carlos Castillo said the fish being replaced were "non-exotic" and should be considered contents eligible for replacement, just like furniture.

"The applicant has demonstrated that it was more cost effective to catch the replacement fish than to purchase the fish commercially," Castillo wrote, and is eligible for regular and overtime labor costs associated with the fish collections.

"We were expecting a good outcome on this because it made so much sense," said Audubon Nature Institute Chief Operating Officer Dale Stastny.

He said the money would plug part of the hole in the aquarium's budget caused by the Katrina-related losses, and the year-long period the attraction stayed closed to the public.

"Actually, right now, we're out chasing stingrays," he said.

John Hewitt, director of husbandry for Audubon, recently visited Landry's Restaurants' Downtown Aquarium in Houston to pick up some donated rays, and this week was at the Virginia Institute for Marine Sciences in Gloucester Point, Va. to collect several more, Stastny said.

FEMA spokesman Bob Josephson said it will still take a few weeks to complete the paperwork involved in transferring the money to the aquarium. FEMA must rewrite the request forms based on Castillo's ruling, then transfer the money to the state Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, which will then transfer it to the aquarium.

Josephson said the successful appeal shows FEMA's careful review of damage requests by local agencies is working.

"It's there to ensure that everything is looked at and we provide the maxium funding eligible," he said. "The important thing is that we got it right in the end."

Mark Schleifstein can be reached at or (504)¤826-3327.

Return to A.M. in the Morning! Home

No comments: