FEMA spends $28M storing trailers and mobile homes

Published 11:20 pm Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is spending $28 million annually to store travel trailers and mobile homes at five Mississippi sites while the agency determines whether they’ll be reused or sold as scrap.

It could be as long as 2011, based on renewal options for leases on the land, before FEMA decides what to do with all of the trailers and mobile homes.

The $28 million covers land leases, utilities, security, operational costs and training at five south Mississippi sites, four of which are full. Trailers are still being hauled to the fifth site, Hickory Grove, near Hattiesburg.

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“If you add up all the units we have, that’s around 32,000 units for the Mississippi sites,” said Gordon Hackett III, chief of FEMA’s Logistics Operation Division.

FEMA representatives say the work was stalled by a federal lawsuit over formaldehyde in the trailers, but that obstacle has been cleared. So far, 283 trailers have been identified as scrap, which means they have no value beyond the parts.

“It’s not like we want to maintain these units on these sites,” Hackett said. “We would rather be disposing of them and putting money back in the treasury, but because of formaldehyde and some other litigation, we were prohibited until recently.”

David Williams, a spokesman for the nonprofit, nonpartisan group Citizens Against Government Waste, says the agency lacks proactive leadership. “FEMA is a tough nut to crack,” Williams said. “With an issue like this, it is probably a microcosm of FEMA and other government agencies. They get so lost in bureaucracy that they forget about common sense.”

The trailers will be auctioned by the General Services Administration, the agency charged with management of government property, on its Web site.

GSA planned to launch sales this past week of trailers from two of the sites, Carnes and Lumberton, but no trailers have appeared on the auction site so far. A GSA spokesman, Gary Mote, said the agency does not know how much money the scrap trailers might fetch.

Hackett said FEMA has 100,000 trailers throughout the Gulf region, with the majority having been used after Katrina and Rita.

“A lot of them have been exposed to weather and conditions for three years,” he said. “A lot of these units are probably going to find themselves being scrapped and salvaged, but until we do our inventory inspections, we won’t know for sure.”