ROOSEVELT The Ute Indian Tribe will soon move more than a dozen Federal Emergency Management Administration trailers from Texas and Arkansas to the Fort Duchesne area to help ease the housing crunch on the Uintah-Ouray Reservation.
Tribal Business Committee Chairman Curtis Cesspooch said the tribe initially requested 20 of the FEMA trailers, assuming that realistically they had a chance of obtaining only four of the units. He said tribal leaders were pleasantly surprised, when after a lengthy waiting period, they learned that 13 of the trailers were earmarked for their community.
"They said not to get your hopes up too high. They were making the rounds and giving everybody one who asked for one, and making a second round and doing the same thing," Cesspooch said.
"They kept going that way until they were all depleted."
The trailers must still be tested before they will be officially released to the tribe, he said.
The lack of affordable housing on the reservation is not a dilemma that is new to the tribe, but the shortage of homes throughout the Uintah Basin as a result of the energy boom has exacerbated the problem. Within the Ute Tribe, many of those without housing are sharing single-family homes with relatives.
"They do double up, there are three or four or possibly more families living together now," Cesspooch said.
Late last year the federal government announced that 1,000 FEMA trailers would be available to Indian tribes throughout the United States. The trailers were originally made available to families displaced two years ago when Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast. Not all of the trailers were used for that purpose.
Cesspooch said the trailers given to Indian tribes are not part of a group of FEMA trailers that were reportedly contaminated with high levels of formaldehyde.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recently conducted tests on 35,000 FEMA trailers being used in Louisiana and Mississippi and learned that more than 500 of those tested had high levels of formaldehyde. In some cases, the fumes were five- to 50-times higher than the levels found in most homes.
"The talk of formaldehyde applies to the camper trailers and not these big units it applies to the small trailers," Cesspooch said.
The office of Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, helped move the Ute Tribe's application along in the process.
"Congressman Matheson is aware of the critical housing shortage on the reservation," said Allyson Heyrend, communications director for Matheson.
According to Heyrend, many of the FEMA units made available to the tribes are new.
"Some of them had not even been used," she said. "They have not been lived in."
Because the FEMA trailers were to be used as replacement housing, they are fully furnished. They will arrive with furniture, washers and dryers, mattresses, heaters and stove-top ranges. The 13 units coming to the Ute Tribe are "in good shape," said Cesspooch.
"They go from 60-footers to 80-footers, most of them are three bedrooms and I think most of them have two bathrooms," he said. "These were made in 2004 and 2005. We did look in them we were all pleased with what we saw."
Cesspooch and four other tribal officials, including the director of the Ute Housing Authority, recently went to Texas to inspect the trailers, take an inventory and officially accept them pending final testing on each unit.
The tribe is now responsible for making arrangements to transport the trailers to Fort Duchesne after clearance from FEMA. Cesspooch said those details are being worked out. Tribal leaders are also determining how the selection process will work for those applying to live in the trailers.
"One criteria will be based on ability to pay," Cesspooch said. "There will be some kind of fee."The cost of the housing for tribal members will depend in part on how much the tribe has to spend to transport the trailers to Fort Duchesne.