Southland waiting on FEMA before repairs can be made

Rita LeBleu

The West Calcasieu Airport Managing Board has been lining up its approach to land FEMA dollars since Hurricane Laura completely destroyed the terminal and caused other damage to Sulphur’s Southland Field.          

“The hoops we are going through are just unbelievable,” said Darla Perry, a CPA contracted by the board. “I worked with FEMA after Rita and after Ike. Many people fraudulently abused the FEMA programs in those years. So many safeguards have been added to prevent that, it makes for a long timeline on getting projects completed.”

Forty-one planes were stored at Southland Field. Some were moved to different locations before Hurricane Laura made landfall. Eleven were destroyed.

Ashley and Karen Wade are Southland Field tenants, and own two planes they keep there — a Meyers OTW (out to win) World War II trainer and a Meyers 200. Ashley asked why the airport couldn’t start spending insurance dollars to make T-hangar repairs right away.

“Moisture can corrode aircraft,” he said. “That’s a $50,000 motor being destroyed.”

Karen Wade voiced concern about metal debris and the safety of hangar doors.

“If we start any repairs, and have not had the complete project approved by FEMA, we don’t get any of the FEMA spread (the difference between the cost and what insurance will cover).” Perry explained. “Costing is around $8 million dollars and we don’t have that in reserve. We had insurance coverage, but everything is 40 to 80 percent higher on things we’re going to rebuild.”

Board Chairman Dalton Langford expressed frustration with the wait and, paradoxically, gratitude that such funding will most likely become available “with careful compliance with every step of the process.”

“Thank God for FEMA,” he said.

Southland Field funding comes from operations, FAA grant money and an allocation from the Chennault International Airport funds.   

Pat Sewell proposed that tenants make basic, temporary repairs at their own cost. He and wife Liz have a Beechcraft Baron and Cessna 182 at Southland. Langford said he thought this might be a solution as long as repairs were deemed emergency and temporary rather than design modifying.

Airport engineer Chuck Stutes said now that the design contract has finally been completed and approved, the first priority is going to be the T-hangars.

“Some of that priority is based on what we anticipate as the approvals from FEMA are received,” he said. “Obviously you can’t bid anything until we have FEMA approval.”

The bid process will also add to the timeline.         

“We continue to work with FEMA every week,” said Perry. “There’s normally anywhere from six to 10 people on the teleconference line and then we have meetings after that, in person, with our grant administrator CSRS.”

The board followed through on the solution of temporary emergency repair and contacted the debris removal contractor to make a second sweep the morning after the board meeting.

In other agenda items, new board member Theodore Thompson was introduced. He was appointed by the City of Sulphur and will take the late Don Chamblee’s place. The state is providing a new localizer building and system. However, there is a backlog on the precast building manufactured in North Louisiana.

The West Calcasieu Airport Managing Board meets at 4:30 the Tuesday of each month. Meetings are open to the public. Board members in addition to Langford and Thompson are Wilmer Dugas, Tommy Little, John Wells and Michelle Amidon.””

Despite a FEMA engineer and an independent engineer declaring this building more than 50 percent destroyed, a second FEMA representative, who has not seen the building in person, has not agreed thus far with the determination so that the building can be demolished.

Special to the American Press

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