Herseth concerned with FEMA’s hurricane response

Herseth concerned with FEMA's hurricane response Rep. Stephanie Herseth receives input from Vermillion Mayor Dan Christopherson during an informal meeting with community leaders at the Coffee Shop Gallery Friday. By David Lias Rep. Stephanie Herseth had more than just South Dakota issues weighing on her mind as she traveled in South Dakota last week.

She stopped in Vermillion Friday on her way to Brookings and, eventually, the State Fair in Huron.

While gathering input from her fellow South Dakotans, she admitted that she's also preoccupied with the plight of thousands of citizens in other states.

Congress, Herseth said, will be occupied for the remainder of the year, working to make sure relief is providing to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

"As we enter into the debate about what we should do after what's just happened in Louisiana, I'm going to raise the question and suggest that maybe we should move FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) out of the Department of Homeland Security, because FEMA was working pretty effectively before Sept. 11."

FEMA's response to the damage and flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, particularly in New Orleans, has been harshly criticized.

A recent Associated Press report notes that Michael Brown, director of FEMA, waited hours after Katrina made landfall on Aug. 29 before seeking approval to send additional workers to the region to support rescuers.

"We've just seen with this disaster with the hurricane how things have changed," Herseth said. "We've talked with people who are currently working with FEMA and worked there before Sept. 11, and they've told us it's a far different FEMA today."

A host of other issues will need to be addressed following the hurricane, ranging from fuel supplies to ever-growing energy and transportation costs that will affect this fall's harvest.

"There's more uncertainty now for this part of the state," Herseth said. "Hopefully we can help address that, but these situations are more outside of our control.

"We have addressed some of the uncertainty West River with Ellsworth, because as soon as that vote came through (to keep the base open) people knew they could move forward."

Mayor Dan Christopherson had good news to report from the home front.

""We're excited about our incubator project, and about a lot of things that seem to be happening now," he said. "There's a very positive mood; the community is very upbeat with a lot of people willing to work very hard. Attitude is so important."

Lisa Ketcham, executive director of the Vermillion Chamber of Commerce and Development Company, told Herseth that the community realizes that one of the most important components the community can offer to its new incubator project is service.

"Our current focus is to try to set it up so that it's a service provider, much like the hub in a wheel, so it can spoke out to other communities and businesses needing

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those services," Ketcham said.

Herseth told local leaders that Congress likely will be taking action in the near future on telecommunications.

Christopherson noted that the community has been exploring the possibility of launching its own telecommunications utility. Before that can happen, however, citizens would have to approve a home rule charter.

"My sense is the telecommunications rewrite could come up at any time," she said, "and at that point, depending on what provisions are in there for city-operated utility services, that may end up making it more feasible for you than not depending on how far in the process you've gone."

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