Reliant repairs anger residents

HOUSTON Harris County is expecting a big check to repair what is perhaps the county's biggest roof. The checks are being cut, all right; big checks for a huge repair job at Reliant Stadium.

It was one of the lasting images of Hurricane Ike -- shreds of stadium roof fabric blowing in the wind as Ike rolled out. But now we're finding out that millions of tax dollars blew out with it.

The Texans missed just one football Sunday after the storm. Fans with damaged homes returned to a damaged stadium.

"It's hot in there," said storm victim and Texans fan Erin Petty. "I wish they would close the roof and turn the air on."

Repair work is underway, but it won't be finished until the season is over.

That inconvenience, though, comes with a big price tag. Replacing the 5-fabric panels shredded by Hurricane Ike and repairing other Ike damages will cost $11 million. Harris County, the stadium's owner, does have insurance, but the deductible is $5 million. It's money taxpayers will cover.

"It's real money, real money," said Willie Loston with the Harris County Sports and Convention Bureau.

"Real taxpayer money?" we asked.

"Real taxpayer money," he answered.

There's good news, though. Harris County doesn't have to pay it all.

"We understand that the FEMA guidelines allow that because this is a governmental building, we are eligible to seek reimbursement," said Loston.

Government building? This is a football stadium…oh, and a rodeo arena. But the Texans and the Rodeo are renters really. So even though they make millions there, they owe nothing. The building is owned by the county and because of that, FEMA will pick up actually 75 percent of the loss, including the deductible.

"They didn't pay any of my roof repair," said Petty. "Why do they have to pay roof repair?"

FEMA's turned down thousands of people with storm damage and even if they agree to pay your claim, they won't pay your insurance deductible. But at a professional sports stadium, the rules are entirely different.

Fans and storm victims may not like it, but Congressman Kevin Brady doesn't have a problem with it.

"Whether the county courthouse got damaged, the county hospital or county football stadium, they're all eligible to be repaired," he told us.

FEMA's been doing it for years. The agency gave New Orleans $6.3 million to repair the Superdome and nearly $90 million to repair the LA Coliseum after an earthquake. The disaster recovery agency even paid $6 million for a new scoreboard at the baseball stadium in Anaheim, California.

So the $3.75 million Harris County will likely get is virtually nothing, all of it while thousands of Houstonians are waiting for FEMA paperwork to go through.

"I disagree with it 100 percent," said storm victim Jared Bowlin.

The roof was under warranty, but was supposed to withstand winds of 110 miles per hour. Ike's winds at the surface near downtown were more than 90 miles per hour. No one yet knows what the wind speed was on the Reliant roof or if millions of damages should be paid under warranty and not by taxpayers. The insurance company is looking into it.

Harris County hasn't hired an independent expert.

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