Panel reverses FEMA, rules in favor of Hattiesburg fire station rebuild

Decision should free funds to ‘replace’ rather than ‘repair’ Fire Station No. 2
The City of Hattiesburg is expected to move ahead with plans to replace fire station No. 2....
The City of Hattiesburg is expected to move ahead with plans to replace fire station No. 2. (Photo source: WDAM)
Published: Jul. 30, 2021 at 4:11 PM CDT
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HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - With fresh federal dollars expected to be funneled to its coffers, the City of Hattiesburg intends to move forward as quickly as possible with plans to replace Fire Station No. 2.

A three-judge arbitration board ruled in Hattiesburg’s favor this week, giving the city an additional $1.9 million to work with to replace the station that was “destroyed beyond repair” during the 2017 tornado that ripped through portions of town.

“We’re pleased that the (Civilian Board of Contract Appeals) ruled in our favor regarding Fire Station No. 2, and I look forward to beginning the process to get the project on track for development,” Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker said.

The city and the Federal Emergency Management Administration both agreed in late 2018 that the station met the federal agency’s guidelines to be “replaced” rather than “repaired.”

But FEMA’s initial replacement estimate of $259,000 was about an eighth of the cost needed to “replace” a station built in the 1960s and bring it up to 2020 standards.

Not only would the station’s footprint on Edwards Street have to expand from 3,207-square-feet to 5,929-square-feet to accommodate new fire station construction codes and standards, but modern-day requirements would push the city’s estimated “in kind, at cost” replacement to about $2.2 million, total.

The city appealed FEMA’s parsimony, but in November 2020, the city was informed the appeal had been rejected.

The city then turned to the Civilian Board of Contract Appeals, which notified Hattiesburg on Thursday that it had rejected FEMA’s rejection, essentially awarding the city another $1.9 million for the project.

The decision cited that “FEMA has incorrectly excluded certain repair and replacement costs in its fifty-percent analysis. We accept the city’s fifty-percent analysis and therefore determine that the City of Hattiesburg is eligible for the costs of replacing, rather than repairing, the fire station with a 5,900-square-foot facility.”

This decision comes approximately seven months after filing a request for arbitration and four months after the two-day arbitration hearing.

“This has been a long, hard-fought battle to go after every available financial resource in order to rebuild both (the Fire Station No. 2 and Timberton Park Complex,” Barker said. “Rebuilding them to the standards to which our neighborhoods deserve has always been the priority.”

The city’s appeal for Timberton, which was also damaged during the 2017 tornado, is still pending.

“I know that this process has taken more time than the neighborhoods and the department have liked, and it may take a little longer due to re-entry into the project proposal phase,” Barker said. “But this is a significant step forward. We will not sit idle until these projects are restored to the investments they are worth.”

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