The Minerals Management Service (MMS) issued a final rule in the Federal Register that would waive several cost recovery fees until Jan. 3 to allow time for the agency to get its New Orleans office back in service. MMS staff have been operating at temporary offices in Houston while repairs were made to the New Orleans offices, which just reopened this week.

Until January, the cost recovery fees have been waived for pipeline right-of-way (ROW) grant applications ($2,350), conversion of lease term pipelines to ROW pipelines ($200), pipeline ROW assignments ($170), recorded title/operating rights transfers ($170) and filing of non-required documents ($25). MMS said it may consider further extending the waiver of the cost recovery fees if its offices in the New Orleans area are not fully operational by Jan. 3.

"After two months of operating with a reduced staff in Houston, we are happy to have all our employees back at work, and the majority back in the Elmwood [Park Boulevard] space," MMS Director Johnnie Burton said on Tuesday. "Despite the temporary loss of offices housing more than 600 employees, we moved aggressively to resume full operations."

As of Oct. 28, all employees reported for duty, with about 350 occupying the first five floors of the Elmwood Towers and a small contingent in a neighboring building; and about another 150 remaining in Houston until the other five, more heavily damaged, floors are repaired. About 100 district employees have continued to work in the district offices along the Gulf Coast despite Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The Lake Charles district office was temporarily closed because of Hurricane Rita but reopened with full operations on Oct. 24.

"Most of the Gulf regional employees who work in New Orleans live in the areas that were hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina. Although all of our employees escaped the powerful storm without serious injury, many of them lost their homes completely, or their homes suffered major damage," said Gulf of Mexico Regional Director Chris Oynes.

Oynes and his staff were not part of the move back to New Orleans. The day-to-day operations for the regional director's office will remain in Houston until all repairs to the New Orleans facilities are complete. The management oversight of field operations and structural engineering support and the management oversight for production, including suspensions and unitization, will also remain in Houston.

The MMS Gulf of Mexico regional office has been located in the New Orleans metropolitan area since the agency was created in 1982, and has been housed at the Elmwood Towers building since 1986.

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