County spends $1.7M more on storm cleanup

  • Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Mario Formisano, director of the county Emergency Management Department, explains to Dorchester County Council how the damage from Winter Storm Pax was underestimated.

Photos

As county contractors continue with debris removal from Winter Storm Pax, it turns out the original $800,000 of funding wasn’t enough; on March 21 Dorchester County Council approved an additional $1.7 million from the “rainy day fund” to finance the county-wide storm recovery.

Total, the county will have spent $2.5 million on debris removal and management.

County documents show the $800,000 has already been spent, but the cleanup is nowhere near complete.

As of March 19, the county’s debris removal contractor – CrowderGulf – has spent an estimated $764,210.17 on debris collection, removal of hanging tree limbs, or “hangers,” cutting of uprooted or split trees, or “leaners,” grinding the debris and depositing it at Carolina Landfill. By March 19, the county debris management contractor – Leidos – has spent an estimated $166,601.31 on project staffing, debris monitors and analysts.

County Council met with representatives from all parties to discuss the added funds at a special called council meeting March 21.

According to County Administrator Jason Ward, the two companies developed the request for an additional $1.7 million. He said the county has about double the amount of leaners and hangers than anticipated, which is the cause of the overage.

Mario Formisano, director of the county Emergency Management Department, said the underestimation is a result of a computer program.

His department uses a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) scenario estimator tool, Hazus, to predict storm damage, associated costs and cleanup times. But, he explained, Hazus has no ice storm scenario, so instead the county used the Category 1 hurricane scenario to develop estimates.

Incorrect estimates lead to budget overages and Dorchester County apparently isn’t alone. CrowderGulf has been performing debris removal for Berkeley County as well, and CrowderGulf Regional Director John Campbell said Berkeley County had to double their storm recovery budget.

“You’re not in a unique situation in that regard,” Campbell said.

He confirmed the high numbers of leaners and hangers are the cause of increased costs.

Dorchester County is one of 21 counties receiving FEMA reimbursement for costs associated with the storm. In order to receive reimbursement, counties must follow specific rules and submit expenditure reports.

According to Simon Carlyle, deputy director of client services for Leidos, the debris management company oversees storm cleanup to ensure the county receives maximum FEMA reimbursement.

Ward said the county is aiming for the 80 percent reimbursement rate, which requires the cleanup be completed within 90 days of when the storm hit (Feb. 12).

The companies have been working throughout the county for two-and-a-half weeks, as of March 19, and Campbell said he estimates as of that date the cleanup was 65 percent complete. He said “early April” is the anticipated project end date.

At a previous meeting, Council said all reimbursed funds will be returned to the county reserve fund, commonly referred to as the “rainy day fund.”

Councilman David Chinnis made the motion the council approve spending the additional $1.7 million from the fund.

To release money from the reserve fund, the council must make a supermajority vote, or have five members vote in favor.

Six voted in favor of the motion; Councilman Willie Davis was absent.

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