County takes steps to accelerate storm recovery

  • Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Cheryl Cargill/Journal Scene Debris piled alongside roadways will be picked up at an accelerated rate starting Monday when a private contractor takes over debris removal.

The ice may have melted and the power may be back on, but much of Dorchester County is still facing the aftermath of Winter Storm Pax.

At a called meeting last Wednesday morning, Dorchester County Council met to discuss efforts already made and the county’s plan moving forward for continued disaster relief.

Debris Removal

According to Matt Halter, county engineer, Dorchester County crews have been busy since Feb. 12, the day the storm hit. First the trucks went through to complete a “first push,” which pushed the debris off the roads to make the streets passable. Second, he said the county has engaged mutual aid to complete a “first pass,” which picked up debris on the roadside.

The municipalities that have provided mutual aid are the city of Charleston, Charleston County, the city of North Charleston, the city of Mount Pleasant and Greenville County.

The first pass, which was completed last week, has swept 95 percent of the neighborhoods in the lower county, Halter said.

He estimated about 20,000 cubic yards of debris have already been picked up, but he thinks that’s only one-third of the debris in the county.

Halter presented a plan to the council to hire a contractor, CrowderGulf, to perform the second pass on the lower county and first pass for much of the upper county.

“These guys will do an additional level of cleanup” including raking and removal of smaller debris, he said.

All of the debris has been collected at the county convenience sites, 374 Sandy Pines and 130 Suburban Lane, until this point. CrowderGulf will be delivering collected debris to Carolina Landfill. The company will also be mulching the debris at the county sites and delivering it to the landfill.

Halter said the county hopes to be able to use the mulch for power supply at a local power company and will deliver a sample of the mulch for testing.

All in all, the county estimates the remainder of the cleanup will take 30 days.

There has not been a schedule for CrowderGulf pickup established yet, Halter said, “but I think you’ll find these guys hit things a lot faster than our guys.”

He mentioned the contractor will be using trucks two- to three-times larger than county trucks. “The hope and expectation is that we can be rocking and rolling by Monday morning (March 3),” he said.

The CrowderGulf pickup will be limited to public areas, roads and property. The county has encouraged private property owners who are unable to clear their own properties to contact faith-based organizations that have been helping with storm cleanup.

Federal Relief

According to Mario Formisano, director of emergency management, the county is in the beginning stages of assessing the damage and associated costs.

He said representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) met with the county last week to address eligibility for federal reimbursement.

Formisano said in order to receive the funds, the county damage expenses must meet or exceed the previously established threshold for the area, $478,000. The damage funds include estimates from electricity co-ops and debris collection.

He said it could take months to get the reimbursement, which will most likely be a ratio of 75 percent federal funding and 25 percent local funding.

Social media, NOAA weather radios and phone calls to the county emergency department served as the best way to disseminate information during the storm, Formisano said. He encouraged the council inform constituents of the importance of having a NOAA weather radio and spare batteries on hand for emergencies.

Citizens wishing to report problems, ask questions or get more information are encouraged to contact the Emergency Management Department at 832/563-0341. Formisano said during the storm he received 200 calls and 116 voicemails – all of which were returned by him personally – during 48 hours.

Financing the Recovery

The discussions led Council to a vote on releasing money from its “rainy day fund” to be used for storm recovery.

Council Chairman Bill Hearn and other councilmembers expressed their gratitude for having the fund in place.

“We’re fortunate that previous councils had a lot of foresight to have money set aside for this very thing, and thank goodness it’s there.”

In a unanimous vote, with Councilman David Chinnis absent, the council voted to release $800,000 from the county reserve fund to pay for disaster relief from the Feb. 12 storm.

County Administrator Jason Ward said during his 12 years working for the county, none of the previous councils have ever used the funds. To use the funds, a supermajority vote of five in favor is required.

Ward reported as of Jan. 1, 2014, the fund balance was $3.8 million.

He clarified that when the county receives federal reimbursement it will be used to replenish the reserve fund.

“There’s been a lot of concern from the public that the efforts are over,” Chairman Hearn said. “We’re only just beginning.”

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