While most Columbia County residents are excited to see contractors picking up debris left from the ice storm, many are left wondering what happens to it.
The county gave contractor Ceres Environmental Services Inc, approved for disaster clean-up through a pre-event contract, the go-ahead to begin collecting the large amount of debris left from the storm.
County Emergency and Operations Division Director Pam Tucker said the contractor got to work late on Feb. 19 with 53 trucks out collecting debris left at the roadside by residents.
“It’s cooking with gas right now,” Tucker said Monday. “We’re just getting started. ... This week, we’re going to see a tremendous amount of debris being hauled off. There is so much out there. Everybody underestimated the amount of debris.”
As of Thursday morning, Tucker said the contractor had removed 70,342 cubic yards of vegetative debris and cut down 1,283 “leaners and hangers,” where limbs and trees were still attached in the rights of way.
The debris, Tucker said, is being hauled to one of four county-owned properties being used as collection sites. Sites, approved for debris collection by the Environmental Protection Division, are located in Evans, near Grovetown, between Grovetown and Harlem and north of Interstate 20 in Appling.
There, the debris is either being burned or shredded. But county officials are still trying to decide what to do with the debris after that.
Residents are not allowed to take debris there personally. Only debris collected by the contractor that has been “vetted and monitored and certified” is allowed.
The contractor has 45 days to collect debris from 2,600 county, state and private roads in the county.
“It’s a big county,” Tucker said. “It’s probably going to take every minute of that.”
Officials in Grovetown signed an agreement to piggy back debris collection services with the same contractor.
Tucker said the county will initially pay the contractor the entire amount owed and will be reimbursed by the city. Harlem officials have not yet come to an agreement with the county. If they don’t, the city will be responsible for its own debris collection and disposal.
The county and the two cities each declared separate states of emergencies and will need to apply for a federal declaration separately through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Assessors from FEMA and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency toured 26 roads in the county early last week to estimate the storm damage.
To meet the federal guidelines for a “declaration,” Tucker said the storm had to have caused at least $434,185.50 in damages. That amount is based on population. FEMA officials will determine the total damage based on $10 per cubic yard of debris.
Statewide, damages must meet a minimum of $13,465,837.67 for any local government to get a declaration.
Once compiled, figures including damage estimates and costs of emergency response during the disaster will be passed along to FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security for evaluation. That agency will make a recommendation to the president.
Tucker said the county incurred $386,854.65 in personnel costs as a result of the ice storm and $22,579.75 in equipment and materials. The debris removal will be the bulk of the cost, but that cost has not yet been determined, Tucker said.
“I’m really hoping that before this week is over, we hear from the president officially okaying this declaration,” Tucker said on Thursday.
“I know that our county meets and exceeds greatly what our threshold is.”
Tucker said residents can dispose of small piles that will fit into a trash can through their garbage disposal service. They also can dispose of larger amount of debris themselves by taking it to Sample and Son inert landfill or the Richmond County landfill for a nominal fee.
“Leave it out there and we’ll pick it up,” Tucker said.