Message from Federal Coordinating Officer

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I have discussed FEMA’s commitment to helping Texans and Texas communities recover from the disaster. This week I want to address our role as it relates to the natural environment and its creatures. In the Alex recovery effort, one of our many environmental concerns is the plants and animals protected under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).

One of our goals in the Hurricane Alex recovery effort is to avoid or minimize adverse impacts on the environment when we approve projects for federal funds or take any other action that might adversely affect our natural surroundings. More specifically, it is our duty under the ESA to avoid spending taxpayer dollars on rebuilding and other recovery projects that might jeopardize the existence of endangered or threatened species, or that might destroy or harm critical habitats.

We take these obligations very seriously and have implemented plans to ensure our actions do not cause additional damage to the diverse ecosystems of the area.

In every major disaster FEMA brings in a team of environmental and historic preservation specialists who work with the Public Assistance and Mitigation programs to ensure that all projects adhere to local, state and federal environmental laws. These specialists coordinate with federal, state and local agencies to assess potential impacts FEMA funded repair or rebuilding projects could have on a communities’ environmental and cultural resources. Among their many assignments is to determine the likelihood of FEMA actions affecting threatened and endangered species in the disaster area. For the Hurricane Alex disaster this includes 23 species, from cacti and shrubs to sea turtles and birds.

For example, in several declared counties environmental specialists must work closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife (USFWS) on road projects that are in ocelot or jaguarundi habitat. These endangered cats have been hit by cars in the past, leading USFWS experts to design specific cat walks that go under roads with four or more lanes and allow cats safe passage. FEMA environmental specialists must check the location of each road project in these counties and coordinate with USFWS to minimize any potential impact to ocelots or jaguarundi.

It is important to remember that FEMA does not provide funds to rebuild damaged or destroyed habitats that existed on undeveloped land. Our mission is to protect lives and property and help Texans recover from the storm by rebuilding stronger, safer communities. Our grants are made with those goals in mind.

The PA program funds grants to repair public infrastructure as well as recreational facilities operated by the state, local governments and other qualifying entities. In DR-1931, this means we are funding repairs to several parks located along the international border Texas shares with Mexico.

One of the many parks is Los Dos Laredo, a popular 13-acre recreation area along the Rio Grande next to the Gateway to the Americas International Bridge. Environmental and floodplain specialists conducted site visits with public assistance and mitigation specialists to assess damages and possible repair projects to the river walk, picnic and playground areas.

FEMA environmental specialists are working closely with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NEPA), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, USFWS and other state and local entities to ensure that all projects are in compliance and quickly funded.

Although federal involvement adds required observance of the NEPA, Coastal Barrier Resources Act, and National Historic Preservation Act, all projects must still be in compliance with other federal and state laws and executive orders including the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act and Coastal Zone Management Act.

NEPA provides a process for FEMA to follow when our actions may affect the environment. These additional law...

Last Updated: 
06/26/2012 - 14:45
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