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FEMA trailer deadline doesn't empty park

By LANE DEGREGORY
Published November 2, 2006


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They're still there.

On Wednesday, a day after the federal government ordered everyone out of FEMA's housing park in Punta Gorda, 38 trailers remained on the dusty lot off Interstate 75.

Some residents were busy carting possessions to apartments. Others said they had nowhere to go. And a few planned to stay until they were dragged off.

Federal and Charlotte County officials had not sent anyone to evict the residents, and said they had no plans to do so. Not yet.

"We're going to sort of let the process work itself out, then see where we're at," FEMA spokesman Josh Wilson said. "A lot of people are trying to make plans to get out, so we want to work with them first."

The FEMA village opened in November 2004, after Hurricane Charley tore through southwest Florida. At its peak, it had 551 trailers - the biggest federal trailer park in Florida and the biggest in the country until Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.

Most people have been living there rent-free nearly two years. At first the federal government said they could stay 18 months. In March, the deadline was extended to September. In September, it was bumped to Oct. 31.

"Some people think the deadline will be pushed back again," said Charlotte County spokesman Bob Hebert. "But that's not going to happen. Those people just have to get out."

But who can make them?

FEMA leases the land from the county, so the local sheriff says he has no authority to evict folks from federal property. That means the federal government would have to go through the Justice Department to get a court order to remove them.

The county hopes most remaining tenants will move out themselves. By this weekend, Hebert said, he thinks fewer than 20 trailers will be occupied.

On Tuesday, commissioners signed a letter of intent with FEMA, offering to buy the remaining trailers. The county would buy the three-bedroom units for $500 each, then sell them to the remaining residents at cost. Commissioners plan to vote on that plan Nov. 14.

"We want to get these people stabilized, so they can get on with their lives," Hebert said. "But the county isn't in the business of running trailer parks. Anyone who buys these trailers will have to move them to another place, another park." FEMA has even promised to pay for the move.

"These people haven't paid rent for two years," he said. "They should be able to come up with $500 to buy their own home."

Within a week, Hebert said, water and electricity will be shut off in the FEMA village. "After that, who would want to stay?"

[Last modified November 2, 2006, 00:10:51]


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