Helping steer hurricane recovery effort
ASPEN The rebuilding of coastal Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina is an unprecedented success, despite the understandable frustrations of some residents, according to a part-time Aspen resident who played a key role in the relief effort.Jim Barksdale said he disagrees with a widely-held belief that the federal and state governments didn’t do enough to help the storm-ravaged state. He said the $2.7 billion dollars in grants awarded in two phases to Mississippi homeowners is the largest relief effort the government has ever undertaken to help citizens recover from personal losses.The financial aid from the private sector and the volunteer labor pouring into Mississippi since the Aug. 29, 2005, storm is also remarkable, he said.Barksdale has played a major, personal role in helping his native state recover. He has contributed about $8 million to the recovery effort through his Barksdale Foundation.
Barksdale is a heavy-hitter in the high-tech industry. He is a former CEO of Netscape and of McCaw Cellular/AT&T Wireless. He is also a member of the board of directors of Time Warner, FedEx and Sun Microsystems. Immediately after the hurricane, Barksdale was asked by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbourto to co-chair a commission charged with creating a plan for recovery. The commission worked fast and furious to come up with a plan that was implemented by the state government, according to Barksdale.For a homeowner still stuck in a temporary trailer provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, recovery obviously isn’t happening quick enough, Barksdale said. But in general, he feels recovery advanced relatively well in places like Biloxi. It will take longer in places in the western, more rural part of the state’s Gulf Coast, like Pearlington, which has been targeted for aid by the Roaring Fork Valley.Barksdale said he is a pragmatist and realized that recovery from such a devastating natural disaster simply requires time.
“It takes a hell of a lot longer than most people think,” he said.Barksdale lives in Jackson, Miss., but spends parts of summers in Aspen. He discussed the recovery of his state with The Aspen Times after attending a discussion called “Rebuilding an American City: A Case Study of Biloxi, Mississippi,” at the Aspen Ideas Festival last week.His involvement extended beyond chairing Mississippi’s recovery commission. In addition to donating millions of dollars through his foundation, he is part of a team that started a model project to get families who lost their homes back into affordable housing.The team is placing 100 modular homes in visible neighborhoods, where they might inspire other builders. Families ranging from teachers to construction workers were selected to receive the homes.
Barksdale said these modular homes are indistinguishable from stick-built homes and tough enough to withstands hurricanes. The average cost of construction and connection to a foundation is about $115,000. Many of the recipient families cannot handle a mortgage that high, so Barksdale’s foundation is shaving off about $50,000 per home.Barksdale is confident the Mississippi Gulf Coast will be rebuilt “better, smarter, tougher and more resilient” than before. But there is risk involved.”You shouldn’t live where hurricanes hit every few years,” he said. “If you do, you have to realize the risk.”Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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