"I'm trying to get back to teaching," LSU law professor P. Raymond "Ray" Lamonica said last week. Just hours earlier, a federal arbitration panel in Washington ordered FEMA to pay $474.7 million to Lamonica's clients — the state and LSU — to replace Katrina-damaged Charity Hospital in New Orleans. The state wanted $491.8 million, but FEMA estimated disaster-related damage to Charity at $126.1 million. After five days of closed-door testimony, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Civilian Board of Contract Appeals ruled in favor of the state.
Using FEMA guidelines, the tribunal agreed with Lamonica's arguments that storm damage to Charity exceeded 50 percent of the cost of replacing the 4,000-bed facility to pre-Katrina conditions. In its six-page decision (http://lsusystem.edu/userfiles/file/charityDecision01272010.pdf), the panel found the FEMA experts who inspected Charity post-Katrina were "less experienced and less credible" than state-contracted experts from Blitch Knevel Architects (BKA) and RSMeansBusiness Solutions. The controversy over whether to restore Charity or build a new replacement hospital was "not relevant" to deliberations in the case, the judges added.
After the ruling, Lamonica dismissed preservationists and activists who say the award should now be used to restore Charity Hospital, not to build LSU's proposed new $1.2 billion teaching hospital near a new VA medical facility in Lower Mid-City. "It would be foolish to attempt to turn Charity into a hospital again," Lamonica said. He noted that the federal officials concluded the flood-damaged VA hospital could not be used as a medical facility again. "Charity Hospital is much worse," Lamonica said. He urged skeptics to read summaries of arguments from the arbitration hearings posted on LSU's Web site, www.lsusystem.edu/userfiles/file/FEMA_arbitration_docs.zip. "It's nice to have it resolved," Lamonica said by phone from his LSU law office. — Allen Johnson Jr.