He walks across to a neighboring trailer and looks at a flexible black hose that was used to hook up its sewage. "Flex hose. That's all you need," he says. "That's about $30 right there."
Turning his attention back to the FEMA trailer, he says, "They probably spent about $300. They put rigid pipe and anchored all of this just like it was a permanent mobile home." Olivier also questions the need for the cinder blocks FEMA stacked underneath the rear of the trailers for support, rather than using the jacks that already come attached to the trailers.
"This is overkill," Olivier says incredulously. "Government waste."
A stout former Lafayette city fireman with a thick white beard, Olivier lives and works on his pay-to-fish aquafarm and RV campsite Catfish Heaven, located just outside of St. Martinville. Lately, FEMA's ability to hook up trailers hasn't concerned him as much as its procedure for picking them up. The trailer in front of Olivier has been sitting vacant in his lot for more than two months.
"I've talked with three FEMA representatives. I called two congressman, two state senators, the governor, the lieutanent governor, the DA and the sheriff," Olivier says. "Nobody could help me. I just want to know what my rights are."
About two weeks ago, Olivier says, FEMA finally sent someone to pick the trailer up, but he turned them away. He's now determined to collect on the two months of back rent that FEMA owes him for the empty trailer occupying one of his camper sites. Unless they pay up, he says they'll need a court order to get their trailer back from him.
"I want to see what happens," Olivier says. "I'm making a point. I want to show them how stupid and absurd the FEMA system is."
More than a year after Katrina, logistical issues with FEMA trailers are still a problem. This past summer, when some storm-struck Gulf Coast residents were still desperately awaiting housing assistance from FEMA, hundreds of brand new trailers sat unused for more than a month in two large FEMA park sites in Morgan City and Plaquemines Parish.
In Lafayette, FEMA brought approximately 40 brand new trailers out to Acadian Park at the end of 2005, which sat unused for three months before FEMA finally hauled them off. According to Lafayette Parks and Recreation Director Gerald Boudreaux, FEMA claimed the sewage fixtures at Acadian Park did not meet its specifications. "Nobody ever used [the trailers]," Boudreaux says. FEMA ultimately paid the city of Lafayette $45,000 rent for the camper sites.
Olivier's RV camp began filling up with New Orleans-area evacuees ' many of whom came in their own campers ' after Katrina. He allowed FEMA to place five of its trailers at his campsite for evacuees. While FEMA provided the trailers, the occupants were responsible for renting the camper sites at a cost of $350 a month. Olivier helped out storm evacuees when he could, cooking for them, helping to find work for some and even forgoing some of the rent. He doesn't have the same level of sympathy for FEMA.
"See, FEMA is nobody," Olivier notes. "It's all subcontractors. The only fulltime paid employees [for FEMA] as I understand is the director and maybe his secretary. The rest are all subcontractors.
"And the biggest subcontractor," he continues, "assigns and hires other subcontractors in various areas of the country where they've had the catastrophes. And it's just a bureaucratic nightmare. Nobody knows what the other is doing over here, and they don't talk to each other. Even [U.S. Rep. Charles] Boustany's office told me that they can't even get straight answers from FEMA. It's so friggin' screwed up. Nobody knows s--t. And that's the point."
When two FEMA trailer occupants left Catfish Heaven over the summer, Olivier says the trailers were picked up promptly and without incident. His troubles began in September, when his third FEMA trailer was scheduled for pickup. Two weeks after its occupant had left, the trailer was still there, and Olivier started making some phone calls. He started with Rep. Boustany's office, which directed him to a FEMA hotline in Baton Rouge. When he spoke to a FEMA rep, they told him that the trailer was scheduled for pickup, but they couldn't tell him when.
"I said, 'Give me the number to the subcontractor, and I'll call him.' And she said, 'No, can't do that.'"
After another week had gone by and FEMA still hadn't picked the trailer up, Olivier began pleading with state police and the St. Martin Parish Sheriff's Office for help, asking if they could have the trailer moved somewhere else for FEMA to pick up. Both offices said it was out of their jurisdiction.
"We just went round and round with this foolishness," Olivier recalls. "I said I want to know what my rights are. I don't have a contract with FEMA. I haven't been appointed the guardian of this damn trailer. I want it off my property. I want you to pick it up and you put it in storage and you fight with FEMA to collect the storage [cost]."
The state police directed Olivier to the same FEMA hotline he had started with. When he called again, he had a conversation almost identical to his previous call to FEMA: they again told him that the trailer was scheduled for pickup, but could not tell him when or how he could reach the subcontractor.
Olivier, who documented each of his calls in a notebook now filled with notes and phone numbers, got a call soon afterward from a man who said he was the congressional representative for FEMA.
"He kind of expressed to me that I feel your pain, and we're trying to do everything we can and blah, blah, blah," Olivier recollects. "And I said, 'You ain't doin' a goddamn thing, but wasting my taxpayer's money. The thing that upsets me is there's people still trying to get these damn trailers, and y'all are so screwed up you don't even know where there at, when they're going to be picked up or what to do with the goddamn things and you're getting paid for it. That's what pisses me off.'"
After their initial conversation, the FEMA congressional rep called back twice to check and see if the trailer had been picked up.
Sitting over a cup of coffee at his dining room table, Olivier grins and adjusts the New Orleans Saints visor on his head as he recalls the last conversation with the FEMA congressional representative.
"I told him, 'No, they haven't picked [the trailer] up yet.' But I said, 'Now I got a new twist on this thing. When they come to pick it up now, I'm going to tell you what the sheriff told me: get a court order. You ain't pickin' it up till I get my money or a court order. Don't send him up here."
When FEMA recently sent out a subcontractor anyway, Olivier turned them away.
Rachel Rodi, a FEMA spokeswoman in New Orleans who was unfamiliar with Olivier's case, said FEMA does impose deadlines on its subcontractors for picking up vacated trailers. In the case of Catfish Heaven, she says, "It must have been some kind of communication breakdown." To her knowledge, FEMA has never paid back rent to a landowner for being late on picking up a trailer, but she indicated a willingness to negotiate. "We appreciate him letting us put trailers there, so we want to do everything we can to work with Mr. Olivier to try and better the situation."
The FEMA trailer is still there, among several other vacant spaces in Olivier's RV lot. This time of year is typically slow for the fish farm and campsite, and Olivier says there's nothing he can do with the trailer. The last tenant locked the keys inside, took the power cord and, according to one of his employees, also left meat in the refrigerator, which has probably ruined the trailer by now. Olivier's also been afraid to move it himself for fear of damaging it and potentially being held liable.
"So now I just want to see what's going to happen," Olivier says. "The point I want to make is how screwed up they are. To take two months and just come pick it up and say thank you and not pay me? Screw them. I've paid my taxes."
School board members Mark Babineaux, Hunter Beasley and Tehmi Chassion can vote to fire Cooper — because we all know that’s exactly what they’ll do.
District 2 school board candidate Simon Mahan is hoping to unseat first-term incumbent and former Carencro Mayor Tommy Angelle in the Nov. 4 election.
District Attorney Mike Harson is showing his desperation by falsely attributing quotes to his opponent and blocking journalists from his social media.
The governor is traveling the country laying the groundwork for a possible 2016 presidential campaign, but his approval ratings at home hover well below 50 percent.
State District Judge Bob Downing extended the order and delayed a planned Wednesday hearing about a permanent injunction while negotiations continue between Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and the waste disposal site operator.
New Louisiana higher education commissioner Joseph Rallo will be paid more than his predecessor.
Elijah McGuire and Alonzo Harris each had four rushing touchdowns, and Louisiana-Lafayette rolled to 419 yards on the ground in a 55-40 victory over Arkansas State on Tuesday night.
Bill and Hillary Clinton are the validators-in-chief for Democrats struggling through a bleak campaign season in states where President Barack Obama is deeply unpopular.
President Barack Obama is turning to black radio listeners to plead for midterm votes, a targeted approach to drum up Democratic support at a time when many candidates don't want him around in person.
WaPo Watergate editor Ben Bradlee dies; Clintons stump for Dems; Liberians stranded and more national and international news for Wednesday, October 22, 2014.
Wednesday's Blogs from the Bog!
"I am extremely disheartened by the political machines that are attempting to hijack my efforts along with others that advocate for children."
Landrieu, who is fighting to keep her seat for a fourth term, said that Ebola is serious and precautions should be taken, but she accused Republicans of using the virus outbreak in West Africa to "create fear" here at home.
Law enforcement agencies are participating in a "Louisiana Heroin Summit," designed to address the recent rise in heroin use and drug-related deaths around the state.
State education officials are preparing to release performance scores for public schools and public school districts.
Saints coach Sean Payton is starting a new week by emphasizing, repeatedly, the many good things he noticed during New Orleans' latest loss.
We will be offering our recommendations on the constitutional amendments tomorrow.
The justices did not comment in leaving in place lower court rulings that dismissed the lawsuits against BP and other companies involved in the worst U.S. offshore oil spill.
White registration is down by 7,700 voters while black registration has shot up by 7,100 voters.
Even though it had been rumored for months, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu finally pulled the trigger recently on a major campaign shakeup that moved control over to a few Big Easy insiders.
Louisiana's health department says it will seek law changes to stop billing sexual assault victims for exams and tests.
It wasn’t the historic slashes to higher ed funding or the ensuing tuition spikes that recently had LSU’s student body and faculty riled up in collective outrage.
Will $400 be enough for the re-election campaign of LPSB's Hunter Beasley to overcome two years of holding our school system hostage and hurting the education of our children all because of a personal dislike of the superintendent?
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham said Friday he expects his playing status in Detroit to be decided by coach Sean Payton on Sunday, shortly before the game.
Lawmakers have sidestepped a decision on whether they accept claims from Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration that the state closed last year's books with a nearly $179 million surplus.