Legal fees are adding up for Sikeston in issue with FEMA

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

SIKESTON, Mo. -- Having spent more than $14,000 on legal fees, Sikeston appears to be no nearer to resolving a notification issue with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

During a special city council meeting Monday, council members formally authorized the mayor to engage the Husch Blackwell law firm of St. Louis to explore the city's complaint against FEMA.

City officials believe FEMA violated notification requirements by making changes to Sikeston's flood plain maps without twice publishing notification in a local newspaper.

The city now has a bill of $14,379 from the Husch Blackwell law firm with a list of charges dated June 1 to 25. It includes 44.5 billed hours for a range of services such as telephone conferences with the city attorney, analytical work, travel to Sikeston, reviews of previous related court actions and phone calls to city officials, FEMA officials and congressional staff.

"What have they done?" Councilman Mike Bohannon asked. "We're paying them $14,000 for one letter and a drive down to Sikeston?"

Bohannon asked if the firm was going to initiate a lawsuit on behalf of the city to compel FEMA to publish appropriately as city officials maintain FEMA is required. He noted a similar lawsuit was successfully pursued against FEMA in the Eighth Circuit Court.

Chuck Leible, city counselor, said the firm sent a letter to FEMA in June asking the agency if they agree or disagree that they are required to publish notifications twice.

If FEMA agrees, then flood plain maps that became effective in June must be put on hold until the publication requirement has been fulfilled. This would give the city the opportunity to file its appeal of the map changes.

But FEMA has still not responded to the letter.

Leible said FEMA has maintained the position all along that they are not required to publish as there was no elevation change made on the maps.

The firm is going to recommend that "the most appropriate course" for the city to take is using political pressure to compel FEMA to respond, Leible said.

"My understanding is that this was an open-and-shut case," Bohannon said, "and now they're wanting to back out and apply political pressure."

Pertinent address:

Sikeston, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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