St Bernard moldy documents cause Court Clerk to Travel - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

St. Bernard Clerk of Court wears hazmat suit to conduct duties of office

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Mandeville, La. -

St. Bernard Clerk of Court Randy Nunez put on a hazmat suit to conduct the business of his office, not in Chalmette, but in Mandeville.

FEMA has pulled funding on a moldy document retrieval service saying the service was no longer needed.

Nunez now travels to a St. Tammany warehouse, belonging to a document retrieval and digitizing service, to personally go into a room filled with millions of moldy documents flooded during Katrina.

"I know some other offices on the Gulf Coast suffered damage, but not like us," said Nunez.

Until last week, Nunez could call 'The Windward Group' for documentation needed on things like property titles or marriage records going back to the 1700s. But with last year's re-opening of the new St. Bernard courthouse, FEMA quit paying for off-site storage of documents. Nunez believes they still need to be kept offsite due to the mold.

"You can see the writing is wet," said Nunez.

The Windward Group now owes over $125,000 for storing St. Bernard history.

"I can't afford any longer to supply the services that are required," said company president Bob Rathe.

FEMA paid over $15 million for the courthouse renovation. They also reimbursed St. Bernard Parish over $906,000 for remediation and removal of mold from parish documents. That included a $223,000 payment to one firm, which allegedly wiped down documents with bleach.

"I would say it was inadequate and not at all effective," said Rathe.

That work, again paid for by FEMA, was done at a fraction of the normal remediation cost which requires freeze drying documents to remove moisture.

"[The] rule of thumb is a dollar a page and they paid 10 cents a page," said Rathe.

FEMA says the parish was supposed to ensure the job was done right. In a statement, FEMA said the parish now has an avenue for appeal and should provide documentation to "explain why the applicant believes the original determination is wrong."

The statement also says "a request for additional funding for remediation or storage has not been submitted."

Nunez has begun the process of trying to retrieve some of these moldy documents on his own and has gotten word out of congress that offers a ray of hope.

Nunez says senators Landrieu and Vitter are now involved.

"I spoke to both aides and they said they were working with FEMA to solve this problem," said Nunez.

But until that comes, Nunez is expected to spend a lot of time away from his office.

St. Bernard Parish President Dave Peralta says the parish will have to cut something to pay for the document storage. He says they will appeal FEMA's decision to cut funding.

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