FEMA, Corps set debris date

Published 1:32 am Wednesday, December 15, 2004

By By Michele Gerlach
Escambia County residents have a new deadline for getting storm debris curbside – Jan. 2, 2005.
Representatives of county government and municipalities within the county met with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials, state Emergency Management Agency officials and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers representatives in Flomaton Tuesday afternoon in an attempt to clarify what FEMA will and will not do as part of post-Hurricane Ivan cleanup.
Richard Cruse, who recently assumed leadership of FEMA's operations in Escambia County, said local officials previously were misled when they were told that the Corps of Engineers, working on contract for FEMA, would pick up any storm debris that was moved to the right-of-way.
At the close of business this Monday, Dec. 13, the Corps of Engineers had picked up 1,018,000 cubic cards of debris and estimated it had removed 86 percent of storm debris.
Cruse now says that legally, FEMA is limited to removing only that storm-related debris that causes potential health and safety problems for homeowners.
Cruse said that the Corps's contractors will continue picking up debris until Dec. 22. The operation will then be shut down until Jan. 3, 2005.
The contractors will begin making their final passes in the county on Jan. 3.
"When we have finished an area, we will have a county or city official go through the area with us and sign off that it is completed," Cruse said.
Cruse said FEMA normally does not remove commercial debris, or debris from pecan orchards or other areas deemed agricultural. However, because local officials previously had been led to believe that the Corps would pick up commercial debris, he said that commercial debris already at the curb will be picked up.
Also at issue was whether of not the Corps would go on private property to remove debris. Previously, local elected officials said, they had been told if property owners gathered storm debris and piled it in a place from which it was feasible to remove it, the Corps would pick it up if they had a hold harmless agreement signed by the property owner.
However, on Tuesday, both Cruse and George Burge of the Corps of Engineers said that is not the case, and the debris must be moved to the curb.
"We are wiling to extend the deadline," Cruse said. "After that, if residents continue to put large debris curbside, you all need to work out a fine system."
FEMA and Corps officials both expressed concern that non-storm related debris is being added to curbside piles of debris, slowing the removal process. They also are concerned that people will add Christmas trees to the debris pile after the holidays.
Brewton Mayor Ted Jennings and Atmore Mayor Howard Shell both quizzed FEMA and Corps officials about previous assurances that FEMA would help with the cleaning of parks, cemeteries, drainage systems, public golf courses, and right-of-ways.
Cruse said governments are eligible for help with cleaning public property. However, he said, the local governments will have to contract the work and are eligible for 85 percent reimbursement.
"I tell you one thing," Shell said. "I read in the paper where FEMA sent $14 billion to help build Iraq and I bet they don't have to fill out the first sheet of paper. We, on the other hand, have had to hire an accountant to help y'all keep up with what you're doing.
"When you leave here, we want to be in good shape."

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