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Swede's Dock

in lovely downtown Lavallette, NJ

The Slush Fund

{ The following article appeared in the New York Times. I have inserted comments, and they appear in Blue in brackets. }

Swede's Dock

October 2, 2005

Stumbling Storm-Aid Effort Put Tons of Ice on Trips to Nowhere


WASHINGTON, Oct. 1 - When the definitive story of the confrontation between Hurricane Katrina and the United States government is finally told, one long and tragicomic chapter will have to be reserved for the odyssey of the ice.

Ninety-one thousand tons of ice cubes, that is, intended to cool food, medicine and sweltering victims of the storm. It would cost taxpayers more than $100 million, and most of it would never be delivered.

$100,000,000 / 91,000 tons = $1,098 per ton. When I had the dock I used to buy ice delivered and unloaded for $21 a ton. I thought it was too expensive and so bought two large machines machines (10 tons a day) because it was so much cheaper. Can there have been that much inflation in cost of making ice the last 25 years? Does it REALLY cost 50 times or more to make today than 25 years ago?

The somewhat befuddled heroes of the tale will be truckers like Mark Kostinec, who was dropping a load of beef in Canton, Ohio, on Sept. 2 when his dispatcher called with an urgent government job: Pick up 20 tons of ice in Greenville, Pa., and take it to Carthage, Mo., a staging area for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Hmmm.... Could the owner of the trucking company (Universe Truck Lines of Omaha, Neb) for whom Mark worked been a campaign contributor? What about the owner of the Ice Plant in Greenville? How about the owner of the staging area?

Mr. Kostinec, 40, a driver for Universe Truck Lines of Omaha, was happy to help with the crisis. But at Carthage, instead of unloading, he was told to take his 2,000 bags of ice on to Montgomery, Ala.

After a day and a half in Montgomery, he was sent to Camp Shelby, in Mississippi. From there, on Sept. 8, he was waved onward to Selma, Ala. And after two days in Selma he was redirected to Emporia, Va., along with scores of other frustrated drivers who had been following similarly circuitous routes.

At Emporia, Mr. Kostinec sat for an entire week, his trailer burning fuel around the clock to keep the ice frozen, as FEMA officials studied whether supplies originally purchased for Hurricane Katrina might be used for Hurricane Ophelia. But in the end only 3 of about 150 ice trucks were sent to North Carolina, he said. So on Sept. 17, Mr. Kostinec headed to Fremont, Neb., where he unloaded his ice into a government-rented storage freezer the next day.

So we don't lose track, so far our ice has gone to:
Canton, Ohio to:
Greenville, Pa. to:
Carthage, Mo. to:
Montgomery, Ala. to:
Emporia, Va. (for an entire week, his trailer burning fuel around the clock to keep the ice frozen) to:
Fremont, Neb. (where he unloaded his ice into a government-rented storage freezer the next day).

($4,500 in trucker wages + $3,000 for fuel (1,000 gallons of fuel - my estimate) + $10,000 (truck owner -my estimate) + ...

And that was only 20 of the 91,000 tons.

"I dragged that ice around for 4,100 miles, and it never got used," Mr. Kostinec said. A former mortgage broker and Enron computer technician, he had learned to roll with the punches, and he was pleased to earn $4,500 for the trip, double his usual paycheck. He was perplexed, however, by the government's apparent bungling.

"They didn't seem to know how much ice they were buying and how much they were using," he said. "All the truckers said the money was good. But we were upset about not being able to help."

At double wages you can bet your bippy ALL those drivers will be voting Republican next year.

In the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Kostinec's government-ordered meandering was not unusual. Partly because of the mass evacuation forced by Hurricane Katrina, and partly because of what an inspector general's report this week called a broken system for tracking goods at FEMA, the agency ordered far more ice than could be distributed to people who needed it.

Over about a week after the storm, FEMA ordered 211 million pounds of ice for Hurricane Katrina, said Rob Holland, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers, which buys the ice that FEMA requests under a contract with IAP Worldwide Services of Cape Canaveral, Fla.

I wonder if IAP Worldwide Services is a campaign contributor? I wonder of Ron Holland will go to work IAP after he "retires" from his spokesman job in the government. Or as a "consultant" to lobby the Corps of Engineers?

Officials eventually realized that that much ice was overkill, and managed to cancel some of the orders. But the 182 million pounds actually supplied turned out to be far more than could be delivered to victims.

We're certainly fortunate that we have concerned, non influenced by lobbyist/politicians, on the ball, managers at Corps of Engineers and FEMA. Only 82% of the ice ordered is wasted instead of the normal 93%. Ain't politics and bureaucracy grand?

In the end, Mr. Holland said, 59 percent of the ice was trucked to storage freezers all over the country to await the next disaster; some has been used for Hurricane Rita.

Yup, it really pays to store ship and store ice. I wonder if it will be in freezer warehouses (owned by campaign contributors?) all through next winter? The next decade? It's a commonly known fact ice is much cheaper to put in storgae than make new as it's needed. I mean it must be commonly known if the government's doing it. Right? I wonder how many of those "storage" facilities are owned by campaign contributors or by clients of lobbyists? Nah, I guess I don't wonder at all. Do you wonder at all?

Of $200 million originally set aside for ice purchases, the bill for the Hurricane Katrina purchases so far is more than $100 million - and climbing, Mr. Holland said. Under the ice contract, the government pays about $12,000 to buy a 20-ton truckload of ice, delivered to its original destination. If it is moved farther, the price is $2.60 a mile, and a day of waiting costs up to $900, Mr. Holland said.

Let's see now. $600 a ton the first day. We transport it 4,100 miles @$2.60 a mile plus $900 to drink coffee. That comes out to ... 4100 miles at $2.60 a mile = $10,660. Let's toss in 5 days waiting @ $900 (another $4500) and we come up with $15,000+ (I don't know if tolls are included or not) for 20 tons of ice. $750 a ton for ice. No wonder the government wants to store it. Hell, I would too, if it cost me that much.

Those numbers add up fast, and reports like Mr. Kostinec's have stirred concern on Capitol Hill, as more wearying evidence of the federal government's incoherent response to the catastrophe.

At a hearing on Wednesday, Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, expressed astonishment that many truckloads of ice had ended up in storage 1,600 miles from the Hurricane Katrina damage zone in her state, apparently because the storage contractor, AmeriCold Logistics, had run out of space farther south.

Oh wow, now we're in Maine with the ice. I wonder if any of our original 20 tons is in Maine?
And how much does AmeriCold Logistics contribute every year?

"The American taxpayers, and especially the Katrina victims, cannot endure this kind of wasteful spending," Ms. Collins said.

It looks like Senator Collins' contributors aren't getting enough of the action. And a Republican too. Tsk, Tsk. I bet they get more after this is printed.

Asked about trips like Mr. Kostinec's, Nicol Andrews, a FEMA spokeswoman, said: "He was put on call for a need and the need was not realized, so he went home. Any reasonable person recognizes the fact that it makes sense to prepare for the worst, hope for the best and place your resources where they may be needed."

Unlike an ordinary hurricane, which may leave a large population in still-habitable housing but without power for days or weeks, Hurricane Katrina destroyed neighborhoods and led to unprecedented evacuation, Ms. Andrews said.

"The population we ordered the ice for had been dispersed," she said, "which is good, because they are out of harm's way."

Ms. Andrews said FEMA realized it must improve its monitoring of essential items.

{Ya think?}

The new report by the homeland security inspector general says that after last year's hurricanes million of dollars of ice was left unused in Florida because FEMA had "no automated way to coordinate quantities of commodities with the people available to accept and distribute them."

Ms. Andrews said, "There are programs in the works that will help us better track commodities, not just ice, but water and tarps and food." One system would use bar codes and a global positioning system, "so literally we will know exactly where every bag of ice is."

{Gee, that's comforting. Now we're gonna bar code ice cubes. Do ya think there's a bar code or RFID company contributor in the woodpile somewhere who didn't get a (big enough) piece of the action?}

Some people, including Michael D. Brown, the former FEMA director, have questioned why the agency spends so much money moving ice.

"I feebly attempted to get FEMA out of the business of ice," Mr. Brown told a House panel this week. "I don't think that's a federal government responsibility to provide ice to keep my hamburger meat in my freezer or refrigerator fresh."

But ice, even Mr. Brown agreed, at times plays a critical role, like helping keep patients alive at places like Meadowcrest Hospital, in Gretna, La. After the hurricane hit, the air-conditioning went out and temperatures inside climbed into the 90's.

"Physicians and staff attempted to cool patients by placing ice in front of fans," Phillip Sowa, the hospital's chief executive, wrote in an online account of the ordeal.

Archie Harris, a Wilmington, N.C., ice merchant who serves as disaster preparedness chairman for the International Packaged Ice Association, said that while FEMA had been criticized mostly as being underprepared, on the ice question it was being criticized for being overprepared. "FEMA can't win right now," Mr. Harris said. "Can you imagine what people would say if they'd run out of ice?"

Not all of the ice delivery trips, by an estimated 4,000 drivers, ended in frustration. Mike Snyder, a truck driver from Berwick, Pa., took an excruciating journey that started in Allentown, Pa., on Sept. 16 and did not end until two weeks later, on Friday morning, when he arrived in Tarkington Prairie, Tex.

The electricity was out in the small community. When Mr. Snyder pulled up in front of a local church and unloaded his ice, residents were overjoyed to see him. "I felt like I did a lot of good," he said.

Truck drivers who pinballed around the country felt differently.

Having almost lost his Florida home to a hurricane last year, Jeff Henderson was eager to help when he heard that FEMA needed truckers to carry ice. He drove at his own expense to Wisconsin to collect a 20-ton load and delivered it to the Carthage staging area.

Then he, too, was sent across the South: Meridian, Miss.; Selma; and finally Memphis, where he waited five days and then delivered his ice to storage.

"I can't understand what happened," Mr. Henderson said. "The government's the only customer that plays around like that."

Mike Hohnstein, a dispatcher in Omaha, sent a truckload out of Dubuque, Iowa, to Meridian. From there, the driver was sent to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, to Columbia, S.C., and finally to Cumberland, Md., where he bought a lawn chair and waited for six days.

Finally, 10 days after he started, the driver was told to take the ice to storage in Bettendorf, Iowa, Mr. Hohnstein said. The truck had traveled 3,282 miles, but not a cube of ice had reached a hurricane victim.

"Well," Mr. Hohnstein said, "the driver got to see the country."

His company's bill to the government will exceed $15,000, he said, but the ice was worth less than $5,000. "It seemed like an incredible waste of money," he said.

Wasted money? At $5,000 for 20 tons that's $250 a ton the ice maker is charging the government. For ice that cost $20 an expensive ton to buy delivered only a few years ago (my dock). I wonder how much her company contributes to the Repug/Democrap Party? Wow! It really pays to do business with the government. I have an ice maker in my refrigerator. I wonder how much I would have to contribute my Sentator's campaign to get a contract to supply ice?

The next time FEMA calls for help, it may find the response far less willing. After two Universe Truck Lines drivers spent more than two weeks on the road to no purpose, the company decided it had had enough. When a FEMA contractor called and asked if the company could take some ice stored in Fremont, Neb., to Fort Worth, Tex., Universe said no.

"Our trucks had been tied up for 17 days," Sean Smal, a Universe dispatcher, said. "We couldn't take another trip like those."

Who's she kidding?. Her boss hears she's turning down $900 a day waiting time an $2.60 a mile for each truck, she'll be out of a job faster than he can get thise campaign contirbution checks written.

Let's look at how "slush money" is passed out:

Canton, Ohio
Greenville, Pa.
Carthage, Mo.
to Montgomery, Ala.
Emporia, Va.
Fremont, Neb.
Cape Canaveral, Fla.
North Carolina
Gretna, La.
Wilmington, N.C.
Berwick, Pa.
Allentown, Pa.
Tarkington Prairie, Tex.
Meridian, Miss.
Selma, Miss
Memphis, Tenn
Omaha, Neb
Dubuque, Iowa
Columbia, S.C.
Cumberland, Md
Bettendorf, Iowa

Looking at that list, it's not a wonder how Republicans get reelected. It's a wonder Democrats even get a single vote. Not that they are any better really. Is rose by any other name ....

End of Slush Fund

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