FEMA and DHS sued over Orleans Parish 911 Call Center

Michelle Massey Feb. 8, 2011, 12:59am


Orleans Parish Communication District filed a lawsuit against Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security in order to force the federal government to pay for replacing the Orleans Parish 911 Call Center, which was damaged during Hurricane Katrina.

The lawsuit, filed on Jan. 31 in federal court in New Orleans, claims FEMA targeted the district for alleged violations of the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act.

After Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, severely flooding and damaging both of the city's 911 call centers and telephone switching equipment, the district worked out of a temporary facility in the Hyatt Regency Hotel.

When Hyatt issued an eviction notice, the district claims that it was not able to restore or build another location that would suffice as a 911 center.

It claims that the Presidential Declaration of Emergency allowed normal bureaucratic formalities to be waived during the state of emergency for Orleans Parish.

According to the complaint, three sites were reviewed as possible locations but two were rejected due to size and previous flooding.

The third site, located at City Park Avenue, was approved by a FEMA senior public assistance specialist for suitable occupation, the suuit claims.

Once approval was received, the district demolished and cleared structures on the site and combined seven modular buildings into one large room to house the center. The district completed a metal interim building to house the call center by June 2006.

The Orleans Parish Communication District applied for funds from FEMA to reimburse the district for the demolition of the abandoned building, for the purchase of the temporary modular buildings and for construction of the metal interim call center. In June 2006, FEMA denied the application for these funds due to unresolved environmental and historical issues with the City Park Avenue site.

The district claims FEMA's environmental and historic concerns were meritless and that it followed all environmental laws and regulations during construction.

"FEMA's refusal to provide funding for the critical 911 call center constitutes an abuse of discretion and its violative of FEMA's statutory duty to assist local governments and their citizenry with the restoration of critical services in the aftermath of a declared natural disaster," the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit is asking the court to order FEMA to pay for the replacement of the Orleans Parish 911 call center and for an award of court costs and attorney's fees.

The Communication District is represented by Juan J. Lizarrage of
Milling Benson Woodward in New Orleans and Chadwick W. Collings in Covington.

U.S. District Judge Carl J. Barbier is assigned to the case.

Case No. 2:11-cv-00209

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