EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

July 14, 2007

Millions of dollars melting away: Ice for hurricane victims still in storage

Thousands of pounds of government-owned ice stored in Gloucester in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina are melting - so far costing taxpayers $12.5 million.

A representative from the Federal Emergency Management Agency confirmed yesterday that the ice being held at AmeriCold Logistics on Rogers Street and 22 other facilities like it nationwide is being disposed of by melting it.

The total cost of storing that ice since Katrina has been $12.5 million, according to FEMA.

The ice was originally sent to the hurricane-torn South for use in relief efforts. But in September 2005, truckers from across the nation were hauling ice back north on government orders, some of it landing at AmeriCold Logistics on Rogers Street. At that time, The Gloucester Times of the Eagle-Tribune Publishing Co. reported that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, admitted it ordered too much ice - 169.4 million pounds - due to faulty estimates by local officials.

Of the 118 truckloads of ice sent to Gloucester in September 2005, 99 were dispatched to southern Florida late that October 2005 to help with relief efforts following Hurricane Wilma. By November 2005, only four remained in storage at AmeriCold, said FEMA spokeswoman Mary Margaret Walker at the time. The truckloads weighed between 40,000 and 84,000 pounds.

FEMA contracts required that the ice be disposed of three months after its purchase, the Gloucester Times reported in 2005. In that case, melting down the ice in storage is coming a year and a half too late.

According to Kirin, the agency decided to keep the excess ice during the 2006 season, which was supposed to be an active hurricane season. With fewer storms than anticipated, the ice was not needed. With the onset of the 2007 season, the agency needed to decide whether the ice was still safe for use, Kirin said.

"We had questions as to whether the ice would be good or not," said FEMA spokesperson Alexandra Kirin. After discussing the issue with different agencies, FEMA officials decided that they could not determine whether the ice was still safe for human consumption.

"We just didn't take any chances," Kirin said. She added that the agency tried to donate the ice, but "had no takers."

AmeriCold officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.

In 2005, the truckers were earning $2 per mile and $900 per day to transport the ice, and many simply moved ice from one area of the country to the other, never delivering to a disaster site. Including shipping costs, the government paid more than $4 per 5-pound bag of ice purchased during Katrina relief, the Times reported. The same bag could have been purchased locally for about $1.50.

"Right now, I feel it was a waste, but how would I know? I guess they felt there was a need for the ice at the time," said Beatrice Murphy, of Longmeadow, who was visiting Gloucester yesterday.

Gloucester resident Barbara Murphy had an idea for the ice.

"If it's not safe to use for humans, why can't we use it for fish?" she said.

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