County leaders in Deep East Texas learned what their portion of $19-million in disaster recovery funds will be. For months the Deep East Texas Council of Governments has worked on an allocation process. It's designed to be fair, but not everybody is happy about the amount of money being made available.
Hurricane Rita's eye passed right over Newton County, bordered by Tyler and Jasper counties. Yet FEMA's reported damage for Newton County is $2.5 million dollars compared to Jasper County's $38 million in damage and Tyler County's $28 million. Newton County Judge Truman Dougharty candidly said, "Somebody was on dope that made up that number." The numbers are important because he knows his meager 2% share of funding was based in part on that assessment. Dougherty said, "Someone did a windshield assessment. You ride down the road, you never got off in the woods to see what it really was."
East Texas leaders took numerous trips to Washington D.C. to testify about the assessments they describe as inaccurate. DETCOG's Executive Director Walter Diggles hand delivered photographs to show Hurricane Rita's destruction. He said top administrative leaders didn't have a clue about the hurricane's strength. "They were just amazed at trees that were still lying in the middle of homes and vacant houses where people couldn't live in." said Diggles.
And this perplexes county commissioners working hard for their displaced neighbors. Jasper County Commissioner Charles Shofner said, "How we can get overlooked is kinda mindboggeling. We had a hurricane also." Tyler County Commissioner Julius Walston commented, "Just a long hard struggle uphill with very little funding coming down." It wasn't until after a personal visit by the Secretary of HUD did mind sets turn around. Still local leaders are taking a wait and see attitude. Dougharty said, "We're on record about it, but I don't know if it really changes anything. It seems like we're stuck with that FEMA number. What I do about it is a lone voice crying in the wilderness."
Texas Hurricane Recovery Funding
Last year: $11.5 billion for hurricane relief
Texas' portion: $74.5 million or less than 1%
Deep East Texas' portion: $19 million for 12 counties