The Port of Galveston has a new consulting group to help navigate a convoluted Hurricane Ike reimbursement process.
The change came after a monthslong controversy that kicked off after the initial company it hired demanded $600,000 for what it claimed were unpaid invoices for services.
The Wharves Board of Trustees, which governs the port, on Monday approved a 12-month contract for disaster consulting services with Witt O’Brien’s for $360,000, records show.
“I wish I could vote for this twice,” Trustee Richard DeVries said of the unanimous decision.
The port had been in the market for a new group to navigate Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursements since it began steps to replace Tetra Tech, a consulting firm demanding $600,000 from the port for what it claims are unpaid invoices.
Trustees in August announced they would extend Tetra Tech’s contract for as many as 60 days before putting out a request for proposal to solicit bids from other firms.
Port officials Monday presented Witt O’Brien’s as the best option out of those proposals submitted.
“Will this be a smooth transition?” Mayor and Trustee Jim Yarbrough asked Monday.
Interim Port Director Peter Simons said he didn’t anticipate the transition would go entirely smoothly, but said his employees had the necessary documentation to steer them through the process.
Tetra Tech officials on May 23 and July 5 sent demand letters to the port for payment of outstanding invoices.
The wharves board discussed the matter in executive session, which is out of public view. State law allows public boards to discuss pending and contemplated litigation in executive session.
The port hired Tetra Tech shortly after Hurricane Ike to navigate FEMA reimbursements.
When Hurricane Ike hit the island on Sept. 13, 2008, it caused damage to many of the port’s docks and property to the tune of $119 million, Asad Khan, of Tetra Tech, said in a previous interview with The Daily News.
Insurance costs covered about $55 million and FEMA was initially projected to cover about $40 million, Khan said.
FEMA officials made an initial assessment of port damages and paid about $12.5 million, Khan said. The rest of the funding — about $30 million — is caught up in a lengthy administrative process.
The Port of Galveston, after reviewing invoices, has paid about $445,000 of $600,000 demanded by a consulting firm handling Hurricane Ike damage claims submitted to the federal government, according to letters released to The Daily News.
Port officials have declined to comment on the ongoing issues with Tetra Tech, but have said they are up to date with payments.
Khan in a September presentation to the wharves board said mismanagement had left the port vulnerable to natural disasters and has resulted in many of the delays in recovering money from FEMA.
The port still hadn’t paid several of its invoices and that other companies have had the same problem, Khan said.
Port and agency officials in May reached an agreement to expedite projects and fast-track reimbursements for eight projects, but port management didn’t respond to the offer until after Hurricane Harvey, Khan said.
Now that money is being diverted to Harvey recovery, Khan said.