Covering Louisiana

Jun 8, 2014 10:25 PM by AP

Storage fees slow St. Bernard record retrieval

CHALMETTE, La. (AP) - A dispute over fees for a Mandeville storage facility will cause delays in getting vital St. Bernard Parish court records needed for real estate transactions and other parish business.

St. Bernard Clerk of Court Randy Nunez tells NOLA.comThe Times Picayune that about 3 million pre-Hurricane Katrina, mold-ridden court records currently are stored in a special Mandeville facility to prevent them from contaminating the newly renovated courthouse in Chalmette.

"I can't bring the files back because of the mold and I can't afford to pay the rent," Nunez said. "It's all FEMA. They should be paying it."

But soon after that courthouse's opening in April 2013, FEMA stopped footing the bill for the records' storage. The federal agency said that while it agreed to pay for storage during the courthouse renovation, its aid stopped after the courthouse opened.

"FEMA has provided funding, as requested by the Clerk of Court, for remediation and storage of records," FEMA stated on Friday. "A request for additional funding for remediation or storage has not been submitted."

The parish already owes about $125,000 in back fees. Because the bill continues to mount, The Windward Group has stopped scanning and sending records to the parish clerk. Instead, Nunez or his employees must now go and scan the files themselves in Mandeville.

"We talked to Mr. Nunez, and said, look, we can't afford to retrieve them, but we won't cut off access to them and we'll teach your people to retrieve them," Bob Rathe, the owner of the Mandeville storage company, said on Friday. "I had two full-time managers doing the retrievals every day, and I can't afford that when I'm not getting paid, but we are not going to cut off access to the records."

The process is arduous, Rathe and Nunez explained. They said that to retrieve files, a person must wear a respirator and a hazmat suit.

Nunez said he likely would only be able to go scan files once or twice a week and that his staff will keep a list of requests. He said he would do the task himself, as "my employees didn't sign up for that."

"It will make everything in the parish move a lot slower," Nunez said. "If someone now wants to buy some property, for bank to research the property it will need documents that I'll have to scan when I go out to Mandeville."

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Information from: The Times-Picayune, http://www.nola.com

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