Presentation to U.S. Conference of Mayors, Washington, D.C. Jan. 25, 2006

Here is the text, as prepared, of Mayor A.J. Holloway’s remarks at the opening session of the 74th Winter Meeting of The United States Conference of Mayors, delivered Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2006 at the Capital Hilton in Washington, D.C.

To see the speech, click here.

Thank you for inviting me here today to speak to you about the City of Biloxi’s recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

Before I begin my presentation, however, I want to say something to all of those mayors and city leaders from across this great country who have called or e-mailed us with words of encouragement or donated personnel, equipment or money:

Thank you. From the bottom of my heart and on behalf of the citizens of Biloxi: I say thank you.
Your gestures, and your thoughts and prayers are sincerely appreciated. Words cannot adequately express our deep sense of gratitude. God bless all of you.

When Tom Cochran talked to me about coming here today he said to just come and tell the Biloxi story.
I’m also supposed to use this opportunity to give you an idea of the resources and tools that will be needed to rebuild a city like Biloxi, and to share with you the key lessons we’ve learned with this experience.

I think any of you who have dealt with a major crisis in your city will realize that you might not know all of the answers to all of the questions that you will face.

In dealing with an unprecedented natural disaster on the size of Katrina, we found out pretty quickly that we didn’t even know all of the questions that we’d face.

A few weeks after the storm, I met with a Senate delegation that was visiting Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi.
Sen. John Warner pulled me aside and said, “Mayor Holloway, I]m an old man. I’ve been through three wars and five wives, but I’ve never seen anything as bad as this.”

President Bush made his first visit to post-Katrina Biloxi four days after the storm. He told me he had seen the TV reports, and his helicopter flew over the city twice before landing.

Even so, he said, you don’t fully comprehend the magnitude of the destruction until, to use his words, you get your feet down in it.

Having said that, let me show you a four-minute video to give you an idea of the level of destruction in Biloxi.
[Clips from city-commissioned “Katrina & Biloxi” DVD]

Of course, the devastation that you see in this video and that you’ve seen in the national media reports tells only a part of the story. For us in government, we have to deal with what you see and what you don’t see.

Things like:

Lift stations that pump wastewater to wastewater treatment plants. The day after Katrina, every one of our 114 lift stations was out of service.

Today, we have just about 114 operating with band-aid repairs, with some using emergency generators, which we have to refuel everyday. We have a couple of them that are not in service, but they’re in neighborhoods that, fortunately or unfortunately, do not require service at this time.

And two of our three wastewater treatments plants sustained major damage, but we have them up and running today, but in need of major repairs

And, finally, there’s the monumental issue of repairing and/or rebuilding the drainage and sewer systems under our streets.

Our sewer system has about 235 miles of lines, and we have miles of storm drains, with thousands of catch basins throughout the city.
Every inch of these sewer and drainage lines will have to be TV’d, flushed out and cleared of debris, which would have been a job for our two vacuum trucks that were lost in the storm.

Rebuilding the sewer and drainage systems is going to be a monumental task, and we’ve begun the process of performing a comprehensive assessment of the damage.

We can see telltale signs of the damage to our underground infrastructure throughout the city — in the form of potholes, and, in some areas, partially collapsing streets.

Your water and sewer are the basics, but they are big-ticket items. It’s like I’ve always said, you don’t get on the 6 o’clock news when you dedicate a new wastewater treatment plant. It’s not sexy stuff.

People forget about it when they flush their toilet, but once those systems malfunction, you hear about it.
Another big-ticket item is rebuilding major roadways and bridges, which is impossible to do without federal assistance.

We don’t have the issues that Mayor Nagin is dealing with as far as having a city built below sea level, but we’re seeing the results of the older sections of our city being built on the low-lying tip of a 16-square mile peninsula.

The streets in our city got the double whammy.

Many were originally built decades and decades ago on shifting sands, and that fact coupled with our already low water table meant that the storm surge damaged the asphalt on top of the road, and saturated the soil below the road  bed.

And the heavy equipment that’s being used to remove storm debris is exacerbating the situation – creating gauges in the pavement, and, worse, damaging the already crumbling sewer and drainage systems.

So where do we go from here?

The key to our recovery is going to be re-investment from the private sector – the casino resorts, the hotels and restaurants that make up our tourism industry, as well as the revival of the small businesses, and the construction of affordable housing.

The role of local government – whether it’s in Biloxi, in New Orleans, or in any city across the country – is to set the table for economic development.
To provide essential services like clean water and wastewater treatment. A transportation system of roads that moves traffic efficiently. Good police and fire protection. Quality public education. Good parks and recreation facilities and programs. Essentially, all of the ingredients to create an attractive quality of life.

The biggest challenge in creating the environment to make those things happen is having the money to MAKE them happen. Plenty of money.
Once we get those basic things in place – once we are able to set that table – we will have sustainable economic development and we’ll be well on our way to resurrecting that renaissance that we enjoyed in Biloxi before Aug. 29.
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