Hattiesburg, Mississippi – On Thursday, July 29, the United States Civilian Board of Contract Appeals ruled in favor of the City of Hattiesburg regarding its arbitration with FEMA over replacing Fire Station #2 on Edwards Street, which was damaged in the 2017 tornado that wreaked havoc throughout the eastern and southern parts of the city.
The decision, which was made by a three-person panel, cited that “FEMA has incorrectly excluded certain repair and replacement costs in its fifty-percent analysis. We accept the city’s fifty-percent analysis and therefore determine that the City of Hattiesburg is eligible for the costs of replacing, rather than repairing, the fire station with a 5,900-square-foot facility.”
This decision comes approximately seven months after filing a request for arbitration and four months after the two-day arbitration hearing.
“This has been a long, hard-fought battle to go after every available financial resource in order to rebuild both Fire Station #2 and Timberton Park Complex. Rebuilding them to the standards to which our neighborhoods deserve has always been the priority,” said Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker. “We’re pleased that the CBCA ruled in our favor regarding Fire Station #2, and I look forward to beginning the process to get the project on track for development.”
With this decision, FEMA will amend the Project Worksheet to rebuild Fire Station #2 as a 5,900 square-feet facility that meets current-day requirements for Fire Station Construction Codes and Standards.
Barker added, “I know that this process has taken more time than the neighborhoods and the department have liked, and it may take a little longer due to re-entry into the project proposal phase. But this is a significant step forward. We will not sit idle until these projects are restored to the investments they are worth.”
Arbitration was the 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).
This step came after the City received notice in November 2020 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 qualified under FEMA’s 50% ruling for replacement, the funds obligated ($259,312.00) by the organization did not match what it would cost to replace the facility.
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 needs to build a much larger facility. As construction costs have risen in approximately 60 years and with the need for a larger space, the funds originally 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 was 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 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 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.|
|March 23, 2021||The City of Hattiesburg met with city representation, appearing before the Civilian Board of Contract Appeals, a three-judge panel.|
|July 29, 2021||The Civilian Board of Contract Appeals ruled in favor of the City of Hattiesburg – directed FEMA to provide funding to the city for replacement, rather than repair, of a 5900-square-foot facility.|