Hattiesburg, Mississippi – On Thursday, December 31, the City of Hattiesburg filed a request for arbitration with FEMA over decisions regarding Fire Station #2, which was damaged in the 2017 tornado that wreaked havoc throughout the eastern and southern parts of the city.
“We are committed to rebuilding both Fire Station #2 and Timberton Park, and we will do so by fighting for every financial resource owed to the taxpayers of Hattiesburg,” said Mayor Toby Barker. “We want a thriving park and a rebuilt Fire Station #2 for neighborhoods affected by the tornado, but we want them built to the standards to which those neighborhoods deserve. Navigating the FEMA process has been challenging, but it will not deter us from continuing to pursue every dollar and resource available.”
The request for arbitration comes after receiving notice in November that an appeal sent to FEMA over insufficient funding obligations for Fire Station #2 was denied. The City’s appeal for the Timberton Park Complex, which was also damaged during the 2017 tornado, is still pending.
While the destruction of Fire Station #2 in the 2017 tornado does qualify under FEMA’s 50% ruling for replacement, the funds obligated ($259,312.00) by the organization do not match what it would cost to replace the facility ($2,500,000.00).
The facility, initially built in the 1960s, met standards at the time as a 3,200-square-foot facility. However, to meet current-day requirements for Fire Station Construction Codes and Standards, the city will need to build a 6,000-square-foot facility. As construction costs have risen in approximately 60 years and with the need for a larger space, the funds obligated would barely cover an eighth of the estimated cost to rebuild.
A timeline for Fire Station #2 is as follows:
|January 21, 2017||Fire Station #2 destroyed by the 2017 Tornado.|
|March 13, 2017||FEMA Project Worksheet stated that the 50% rule had been met for the replacement of Fire Station #2.|
|January 31, 2018||Western World Insurance provided a letter that Fire Station #2 was beyond repair.|
|November 18, 2018||FEMA’s cost-estimating format sheet declared Fire Station #2 eligible for replacement under FEMA’s 50% ruling.|
|January 11, 2019||FEMA issued a letter stating that they have obligated $259,312.00 for the replacement of Fire Station #2.|
|March 6, 2019||The City of Hattiesburg filed an appeal with FEMA under the notion that 50% rule was met and that the obligated funds did not include the increases required to meet current Fire Station Construction Codes and Standards|
|June 14, 2019||FEMA responds to the March 6 appeal, claiming there was not sufficient support for the City’s request for replacement funding and that they needed additional documentation.|
|July 12, 2019||The City of Hattiesburg submitted requested documentation to FEMA, including a floor plan that indicated where each individual code requirement would apply in the replacement facility.|
|October 29, 2019||FEMA responded to the July 12 documentation submission, citing that the City of Hattiesburg had provided sufficient documentation that appealed codes and standards were not accounted for in the approved FEMA cost estimating format. However, they stated that they would recalculate repair estimates, regardless of the approved 50% replacement ruling, to determine eligibility for replacement of the facility.|
|January 7, 2020||FEMA provided notice that their recalculations for repair would serve as the funding obligation and denied Fire Station #2 as eligible for replacement costs.|
|January 21, 2020||3rd Anniversary of the 2017 Tornado.|
|March 3, 2020||The City of Hattiesburg responds to the FEMA letter with an appeal that the determination set forth in the January 7 letter, denying Fire Station #2 for public assistance funding in replacing the facility, is incorrect.|
|May 20, 2020||The City of Hattiesburg receives correspondence from the MEMA Director of the Office of Recovery, stating that MEMA has hired a firm to draft the State’s support letter for the Fire Station #2 Appeal and asked for additional documentation.|
|May 27, 2020||The City of Hattiesburg receives confirmation from FEMA that the 1st Appeal of 4295-DR-MS City of Hattiesburg Project Worksheet (PW) 11 has been received.|
|June 17, 2020||The City of Hattiesburg receives email correspondence from FEMA that there have been no changes to the status for the Fire Station #2 appeal.|
|November 2, 2020||The City of Hattiesburg receives a letter from the FEMA Regional Administrator stating that the City’s appeal has been denied, again.|
|December 31, 2020||The City of Hattiesburg files a Request for Arbitration by the Civilian Board of Contract Appeals (CBCA) under the arbitration rights set forth in section 423 of the Stafford Act.|
Barker added, “We know that these processes take time, but it’s very important that our citizens know the lengths we’ve taken to go after what our city is owed. Our neighborhoods are worth every financial investment we put forth, and we will not rest until both of these projects are restored to the investment that they are worth.
An arbitration request is a final step in FEMA’s appeal process, which is pursuant to the provisions of the Disaster Recovery Reform Act Section 1219, which amended Section 423(d) of the Stafford Act (42 U.S.S. 5189a).
The date of arbitration is assigned within six to eight weeks of filing. This process is conducted by the Civilian Board of Contract Appeals, and it includes presenting before a 3-judge panel.