Officials gather data for hurricane cleanup funds

Published 5:00 am Friday, September 26, 2008

Brookhaven and Lincoln County are set to begin compiling expensereports for the Federal and Mississippi Emergency ManagementAgencies to recoup additional expenses in late August and earlySeptember for the preparation, response and cleanup work donebefore and throughout Hurricane Gustav.

Lincoln County Civil Defense Director Clifford Galey said thecounty sustained little structural or infrastructural damage duringthe storm and would be looking primarily to claim the costs ofovertime hours tallied during the weeklong response and the removalof substantial vegetative debris.

“Comparatively, our damage was light,” he said. “We’re justlooking for assistance to help pay for cleanup and the emergencywork our folks did.”

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Galey said the city is basically finished with its cleanupprocess, but the county is only just beginning. City crews had toremove and dispose of downed trees and other road-blocking plantlife during and immediately after Gustav, he said, in order to keepthe roads open.

But in the county, where plenty of room exists in rights ofways, most debris was simply pushed to the roadsides and stillawaits disposal, Galey said.

“The county has to determine what we’re going to do with ourdebris,” he said.

Galey said it was not feasible to take up needed space in thecity’s landfill with downed trees, and a massive burn pile wouldhave to be permitted by the Mississippi Department of EnvironmentalQuality. Ultimately, the disposal decision will rest with theLincoln County Board of Supervisors, he said.

How to contract the cleanup work will also be a board decision,but Galey said he would recommend a new FEMA pilot program thatallows municipalities to remove storm debris using force accountlabor – city and county employees – rather than bidding out thejob.

“That way, you don’t have the difficulty of dealing with acontractor,” he said. “You can pick it up at your own speed.”

Until the tallying of county and city expenditures in the comingweeks and months is complete, Galey said there is no way of knowinghow much federal and state money – split with each local government75/25, with the feds paying 75 percent and the state and localgovernments halving the remaining quarter – could be claimed asreimbursement for overtime and debris removal.

He estimated the paperwork to last two to three months.

Dungan Engineering, PA Civil Engineer Ryan Holmes said thecounty’s small amount of infrastructural damage – which consists ofabout seven locations of roads, culverts and bridges damaged byGustav flooding – will cost approximately $250,000 to repair.

Holmes said the main damage was caused when flooding eroded dirtbeneath culverts, which cause the drainage pipes to back up orcollapse, resulting in indentions in the roadway above.

But, as Galey said, the damage was relatively light.

“We’ll work with FEMA, MEMA and Mr. Clifford to get the projectfixed,” Holmes said.

All of the FEMA and MEMA reimbursements are possible under theStafford Act, a federal law that authorizes financial assistance tostate and local governments and a handful of private, non-profitorganizations for disaster recovery.

FEMA Public Assistance Officer Paul Wilson said FEMA and MEMAofficials would be on scene in Southwest Mississippi “until the jobis done” – which could be several months – making on-siteinspections and damage assessments.

“We actually go out with the applicant [city and county] toidentify the projects,” he said. “If a culvert is washed out, we’lltake dimensions, figure out the amount of material needed to fix itand write it up.”

Wilson said it takes an average of five days to get a projectworksheet entered into and processed out of FEMA’s informationsystem. Once the worksheet has been approved, the applicant canimmediately request reimbursement.

Wilson said most Gustav-affected counties in Mississippi would,like Lincoln County, claim mostly debris removal on theirworksheets. He said reimbursements would likely be measured byeither the cubic yard or tonnage of the debris removed.

In situations like Brookhaven’s where the debris has alreadybeen disposed of, Wilson said the agency could examine man-hours toadjust the reimbursement.