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September 7, 2005


New Castle County government has "a strong humanitarian bias to do anything we can to be helpful" in meeting needs in the aftermath of the Gulf Coast storm, according to chief administrative officer David Singleton.

He said that County Executive Christopher Coons has been working the phones since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and cut a large swath of destruction in southern Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama in an effort to put together a public-private response.

He said reaction "has been very positive" but did not indicate how close Coons has come to being able to announce a specific plan.

Singleton told a meeting of County Council's public safety committee on Sept. 6  that county's possible response could take either or both of two forms:

Lending police, firefighters or other emergency professionals for temporary duty in the affected area;

Securing  temporary or permanent housing here for some refugees.

However, he added, "So far, we have not made any commitments."

The committee -- which, like all of Council's standing committees, consists of all Council members -- voted unanimously to endorse the administration's efforts and to "encourage [it] to look for any opportunity" to help. In doing so, the members indicated their support for a formal resolution to that effect likely to be introduced and passed on Sept. 13 when Council holds its first plenary session following its vacation recess.

Singleton said that nothing under consideration appears to require any legislative action by Council.

A decision to dispatch emergency personnel, he said, will be made in conjunction with the Delaware and federal emergency management agencies.

The more involved housing arrangement is under study with the Delaware Housing Authority as well as several private-sector participants in the housing market which he did not identify. To be determined, he said, is "the number of housing units that could be offered."

In both scenarios, Singleton added, the effort "will not be paid for totally or even mostly with county funds."

While the vote on the motion to endorse Coons's effort was unanimous, some Council members raised caveats.

Penrose Hollins asked why New Castle County's response is still pending while various state and local governments around the nation already have been responsive to needs of victims of the disaster. "I would not want us to be one of a handful or jurisdictions that did not make an offer," he said.

David Tackett said any offer should be made with the realization that "we're still working on our flooding issues here." He added, "I would not like to see that take a back seat."

"We're totally in agreement with that. Our first responsibility is to the people of New Castle County," Singleton responded.

At an earlier meeting of Council's land use committee, Richard Przywara, general manager of the Department of Special Services, reported that buyouts of the 15 "top-priority homes" rendered uninhabitable by flooding following storms in 2003 and 2004 have been completed. Other buyout applications are "undergoing technical review," he said.

To a suggestion that the empty hotel at the Interstate 95-Basin Road interchange be used to  provide temporary shelter, Singleton responded that that idea is under consideration. However, he added, that serious health and safety concerns exist. "There are a number of issues that need to be corrected before you can house people in there. ... I'm not optimistic at this point that can be done quickly enough," he said.

Not the least of the impediments  is that the area surrounding the structure, which was built five years ago but has never been occupied, is prone to flooding, George Smiley. "The last thing we'd want is for them (refugees) to wake up some morning and find themselves in another flood," he said.

2005. All rights reserved.

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