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Katie Moore / Eyewitness News
Email: kmoore@wwltv.com | Twitter: @katiecmoore

NEW ORLEANS -- FEMA calls them critical facilities: police stations, fire stations and hospitals, for example.

They're facilities that require a temporary home, and since hurricanes Katrina and Rita, federal taxpayers have been paying the rent.

For more than six years now, some critical facilities have been in temporary locations, with the cost of rent now in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

A rusty fire hydrant is the only sign that New Orleans Fire Engine 22 used to be across from Preston's house on Egania Street.

'Right now it just look like just a concrete slab right now. That's all it is. A concrete slab, trees and grass,' said Lower 9th Ward resident Kenneth Preston.

There's a similar sight on St. Claude Avenue, where New Orleans Fire Engine 39 stood before Hurricane Katrina. It still bears the 1924 plaque from when the city of New Orleans first dedicated it.

More than six years after the storm, this is the only fire station in the Lower 9th Ward a single trailer with a single truck.

'Say my house catches fire. They on another job doing something else, my house will burn down,' Preston said. 'Which, while one being here across the street, it would be even faster. I could save my house.'

The city hasn't rebuilt a single destroyed fire station since Katrina, despite having more than $6 million in FEMA funds earmarked or 'obligated' for all six of them.

'Every one of them that was totally declared is under design and we're moving forward on construction,' said Cedric Grant, deputy mayor of facilities.

FEMA is picking up the tab for the cramped trailer that was supposed to be temporary. In fact FEMA is paying hundreds of millions to house other critical facilities, like the NOPD 5th District station in the Bywater.

'There is a significant cost associated with it, and thankfully the law allows FEMA to cover those costs,' Grant said.

The city has moved the 5th District twice since the storm, and FEMA has paid more than $1 million to 'temporarily house' it.

In addition there's $3.2 million set aside for the city to build a new one.

'When we came here, people had gone back and forth about the site and we had to go back and acquire more land on the original site,' Grant said.

And the delays continue. Grant said the city recently put the project out to bid, but all came in over cost.

'Construction pricing rises with demand,' Grant said. 'The more people that are doing work, the higher the prices go.'

So it has to be re-bid, once again pushing back the construction start date, adding more to the cost of rent.

'Those are the same three trucks we used at St. Gabriel seven years ago to store bodies,' said Orleans Parish Coroner Dr. Frank Minyard. 'They're refrigerator trucks.'

Minyard is now working out of three temporary facilities after a fire last year damaged the funeral home he took over after the storm.

Records show FEMA has paid more than $1 million in rent for Minyard. That's more than they have set aside to replace what the coroner's office lost in the storm.

'FEMA has been paying quite a bit of money to the private ownership of this building,' Minyard said.

And the coroner's office isn't alone. So far FEMA has paid $1.2 million for the Youth Study Center, $1.8 million for the NOPD Crime Lab, and $1.9 million to house the clerks of civil and juvenile court.

In the meantime FEMA has nearly $143 million set aside for repairs or replacements to city facilities, much of it still untapped by the city of New Orleans.

'Is New Orleans where we think it should be seven years later?' said Loyola accounting professor Patrick Lynch.'That's the real question, and I think most people would say probably not.'

The city has made some progress. Last month police moved into a rebuilt station in New Orleans East, and they have rebuilt some non-critical facilities like libraries.

'Some people estimated this recovery to take as much as 10 years. I've been here about 600 days and I've accomplished 45 percent of this program,' Grant said.

Lynch said, 'We're now approaching seven years, we should be close to 70 percent if 10 years truly was a good estimate.'

When you factor in the jail, schools, even Charity Hospital, taxpayers here and across the country have shelled out $346 million just in Orleans Parish, just for temporary facilities.

'Certainly, you should have some latitude but there should be some target dates for completion. And if those target dates are not met, there should be legitimate reasons for the failure to meet those dates,' Lynch said.

Statewide the numbers are staggering.

So far federal taxpayers have shelled out $515 million for temporary facilities, a number that continues to climb.

The Stafford Act says temporary facility funding is supposed to last six months after a disaster.

St. Tammany and Jefferson parishes are both finished rebuilding their critical facilities, but Orleans, Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes are still being funded six years later.

We asked FEMA why, but they would only say that's what policy allows, and both locally and in Washington refused to do an interview about it.

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