Thursday, November 22, 2007

FEMA to New Orleans Aquarium of the Americas: Happy Thanksgiving, After All

My 11/14 post has a happy ending. After a 17-month dispute, the staff of New Orleans' Audibon Aquarium of the Americas got a letter yesterday from Carlos Castillo, FEMA assistant director of disaster assistance, saying that FEMA has reversed itself and would reimburse the aquarium for the cost of restocking after Hurricane Katrina.

FEMA had declined to pay for the new fish because the aquarium staff had caught them on their own instead of acquiring them from commercial sources--even though FEMA's approach would have cost five times as much.

Castillo said simply, "the applicant has demonstrated that it was more cost-effective to catch the replacement fish."

Melissa Lee, a spokeswoman for the aquarium, said the facility would use the money to help it rebound from nine months of closure after Katrina. A linchpin of the city's tourism-based economy, the aquarium is seeing only 70 percent of its pre-storm visitors and has been forced to lay off 80 percent of its staff. "We felt confident that our appeal would go through. But of course, it's a nice Thanksgiving."

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