OPLIN, Mo. (AP) - Despite fears that it will force some residents to move away, the Joplin City Council has placed a 60-day hold on issuing new building permits for property owners whose homes were destroyed or damaged by the May 22 tornado.
City staff said the hold is necessary to help speed debris removal from the most devastated neighborhoods, saying work to remove acres of residential rubble could eventually bankrupt the city if it isn't completed by Aug. 7. After hearing pleas for some people who wanted to start rebuilding, the city council on Monday approved the 60-day hold.
The city staff had proposed a 90-day hold on building permits for new houses in the most severely damaged parts of the city to allow government to conduct an "expedited debris removal."
The federal government has agreed to pay 90 percent of the debris removal costs until Aug. 7. If the city has to pay for that work, it would cost residents $3 million a day, city officials say.
Finance Director Leslie Jones said city officials had been told that the deadline was definite and would not be extended, The Joplin Globe reported.
"We could very well bankrupt the city, and the city is all of us," if the debris removal is not done at federal expense, Rohr said.
Among the opponents was Creed Jones, vice president of human resources at EaglePicher Technologies. He said he and 57 employees of the company lost their homes, while many others suffered damage. Some of the company's experts in energy and battery technology already are being recruited by other companies and may be inclined to leave Joplin if they can't rebuild quickly, Jones said.
"Don't do this to those people who have already suffered so much," Jones told the council as he choked back tears. He suggested that the city instead expedite building permits.
Larry Elder said he could salvage part of his house if he could get to work quickly to erect a roof and walls. He said other area cities stricken by tornadoes have not imposed building restrictions.
"It sends the wrong message to developers," he said. "It sends the wrong message to people who have lost everything."
City Manager Mark Rohr said commercial construction is being allowed because houses make up most of the debris. The city is concerned that neighborhoods will not be safe because of the number of large grappling trucks that will be working to haul the debris away.
Rohr proposed lowering the hold to 60 days. Assistant Public Works Director Jack Schaller said the goal will be to clear 75 to 100 residential lots a day by Aug. 7.
Information from: The Joplin Globe, http://www.joplinglobe.com