Wednesday, November 14, 2007

FEMA Punishes New Orleans Aquarium—For Saving Taxpayers a Half Million Dollars!

Once more with FEMA in New Orleans, no good deed goes unpunished.

Here’s some math even a fifth-grader would find bizarre:

What FEMA pledged to restock the New Orleans Aquarium after Hurricane Katrina: $616,000.
What the aquarium actually spent: $99,766.
What FEMA will reimburse: $0.

So reports the Associate Press in an article posted on the WWL-TV website.

What did the Audibon Aquarium of the Americas do wrong? It showed too much ingenuity and creativity in getting the job done as efficiently and as cost-effectively as possible!

Before FEMA bothered to share some critical bits of red tape with them, the aquarium staff went out and replaced the dead fish the old fashioned way, with hooks and nets!

But FEMA’s reading of disaster recovery laws is that they required the aquarium to buy replacement fish of the same age and size as those in the tanks when Katina killed the power—and buy them only from commercial sources.

It would have made no sense to apply these rules even if FEMA had properly communicated them. With 900,000 annual visitors before Katrina, the aquarium was a money-maker that wanted to reopen as early as possible. Audibon sent a team on an expedition to the Gulf of Mexico, the Florida Keys and Bahamas, where they caught 1,681 fish for $99,766.

About a dozen aquarium staffers went fishing, snorkeling and scuba diving between January and May 2006, catching tiny highhat fish, yellowtail snapper, jackfish and others. The staffers worked 12-hour days but put in for only eight hours a day, according to invoices.

The catch was placed in a 1,000-gallon tank fitted to a flatbed trailer for the trip to New Orleans. TV crews and a local newspaper reporter tagged along on some trips but paid their own bills.

Most of the fish were caught in Florida waters for one-fifth the price charged by online vendors and specialty stores—suppliers FEMA recommended using.

The aquarium has appealed to FEMA offices in Texas and Washington. It would serve FEMA right if the dispute winds up in federal court, where a judge may tell the agency that stupidity is not much help with disaster recovery.

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