Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) travel trailers going to tribal members on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota are intended for recreational use and not for housing purposes, according to U.S. General Services Administration officials in Washington, D.C.
GSA officials also said representatives of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa were alerted about the formaldehyde warning and the limitation of the use of the trailers, the Minot (N.D.) Daily News reported.
Questions have been raised by some tribal members about whether FEMA travel trailers are safe for the health of tribal members who have obtained the trailers. Tribal member Delvin Cree of Dunseith has sent letters to various media including the Minot Daily News, which have been published about concerns over the travel trailers. He said tribal members received the travel trailers for free but had to travel to Mississippi to pick them up or pay someone else to make the trip.
He said he has reports that tribal members on the reservation are living in the travel trailers and also in FEMA mobile homes which have also gone to tribal members.
Going to the oil fields
He said he also has reports of tribal members from Turtle Mountain Reservation renting the travel trailers to people in the oil fields in the New Town and Williston areas.
It is well known that there is a dire need for housing in western North Dakota because of the oil boom.
Richard Marcellais, chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, said Cree’s letter of concerns has been turned over to Sen. Byron Dorgan’s office in Minot.
Jennifer Bronson, a spokeswoman for Dorgan in his Washington, D.C., office, said Friday (June 25) that the Senate Indian Affairs Committee has received a copy of Cree’s letter asking for an investigation. She said Dorgan’s staff members are looking into the matter. Dorgan is chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.
Cree said he was contacted by a Dorgan staff member Friday afternoon.
Cree, who has been researching the concerns with the FEMA travel trailers and FEMA mobile homes for about two months, said he recently accompanied relatives to a lot in Purvis, Miss. He said the lot had about 60 trailers designated for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, where his relatives obtained a travel trailer and brought it back to the reservation. When his relatives picked up the travel trailer at the lot, he said no documents were presented stating there were possible health concerns and/or health hazards. He said a sticker taped on the side window stated the trailer is not to be used for living in but because of the rain the sticker could easily have fallen off. He said only a few of the trailers had such stickers.
He said he observed travel trailers in the lot with mold problems and extensive water damage. “In a few of the trailers, you could fall through the floor,” Cree said. He said tribal representatives had picked out the trailers for tribal members to have.
“The impression I got from these trailers is that they were abandoned by the government and the upkeep was not there. All of these trailers did have some kind of old mildew on the outside. The smell in some were unbearable,” Cree said.
Cree said some of the trailers going to tribal members are “brand new” and others are used. He said reports are that some of the trailers were used by victims of Hurricane Katrina.
GSA on trailers for tribes
The Minot Daily News contacted the administrator’s office of GSA in Washington, D.C., June 18 and queries about the North Dakota tribal members’ concerns about the travel trailers were forwarded to the GSA Public Affairs office.
GSA officials said the travel trailers were made available for federal transfer under GSA’s utilization and donation program. Working with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Turtle Mountain Reservation participated in two GSA events in Mississippi where there was an opportunity for them to acquire travel trailers.
“The tribal representatives were alerted about the formaldehyde warning and the limitation on the use of the trailers, and signed the certification statement regarding potential presence of formaldehyde and that they were not to be used for housing,” said GSA officials in a prepared statement provided to The News.
“These trailers are travel trailers and are not manufactured housing units also known as mobile homes. The travel trailers are intended for recreational use, not for housing purposes,” the statement said.
They said GSA and FEMA have been working closely to ensure that potential buyers and users of temporary housing units are made aware of all air quality testing that has taken place.
The statement from GSA to The News also said:
“To make sure that trailers are used in a safe manner and in accordance with the manufacturers’ intended purpose, we have taken the necessary steps to educate and inform potential buyers and users of travel trailers and ensure that the trailers aren’t used or sold as housing. Buyers are required to read documentation prepared by the CDC, FEMA and EPA about formaldehyde and indoor air quality standards related to the purchased travel trailer, and to provide the documentation to any subsequent purchasers. Buyers are also required to sign an agreement that they will not use the trailer for housing, they will not sell the trailer for housing, and they will inform any subsequent purchasers not to use or sell the trailer as housing.”
CDC is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and EPA is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
FEMA on tribal trailers
Jerome DeFelice, external affairs specialist with the Department of Homeland Security FEMA Region VIII in Denver, this month also provided The News with a statement regarding the disposition of temporary housing units to tribes in North Dakota.
To those who qualify, FEMA is disposing of excess temporary housing units (i.e. travel trailers and mobile homes) and offering the remainder for sale to the public through GSA auctions, the FEMA statement said.
It also said: “FEMA works closely with the GSA to ensure that potential buyers are made aware of all air quality testing that has taken place. In the case of the travel trailers, buyers must sign a waiver agreeing that the unit will not be used for housing with a notice to this effect placed on the unit itself. Additionally, the units may not be sold by the purchaser for housing in the future.”