Columbia County officials received news Thursday that they’ll be responsible for only a fraction of the cost to respond and recover from February’s ice storm.
County Emergency and Operations Division Director Pam Tucker said she found out Thursday evening that President Obama approved a request for a major disaster declaration for the county and 38 others that were damaged in the Feb. 10-14 ice storm.
“This was very good news,” Tucker said Friday. “We were very fortunate. A tremendous weight was lifted when I got the call from (the Georgia Emergency Management Agency) last night.”
The declaration means that the federal government will reimburse 75 percent of the eligible expenses and damage costs to the county. Those expenses include personnel, equipment and supplies associated with storm response and debris removal.
“It was just an act of nature and you have to deal with it,” county commission Chairman Ron Cross said. “It just makes it easier knowing that we are going to get that. It’s much a much bigger job that I think anybody thought about.”
As of Monday morning, Tucker said, crews had removed 271,150 cubic yards of debris and removed 8,827 “leaners and hangers” in the rights of way. The damage was “so massive and countywide,” she said, adding that the debris removal is about 65 percent complete.
The debris removal is the bulk of what Tucker estimates to be a $5-$6 million cost associated with the ice storm.
The state typically pays 10 percent, with the local government responsible for the remaining 15 percent. Thanks to planning efforts of Tucker, her team and all local government and community entities involved, Columbia County gets a discount to 12.5 percent.
The discount brings the cost to the county for the ice storm to $625,000-$750,000, based on Tucker’s cost estimate.
That amount is manageable, Cross said, compared to the millions in costs.
“We’re going to be able to carry right along,” Tucker said, as opposed to making extreme cuts that would impede county operations, which would be necessary if the county wasn’t receiving reimbursement.
GEMA awarded the county the 2.5 percent discount in October. The county met the incentive standards, a higher level of preparation, outlined in the Georgia Emergency Management Agency-Homeland Security Federal-State-Local Disaster Match Policy, according to a letter from GEMA Director Charley English. Four operational recovery plans, participation in the National Flood Insurance Program, establishment of the training of a local Preliminary Damage Assessment Team, completion of yearly standards through the EGAM-HS’s Emergency Management Performance Grant Program and the county’s StormReady Community designation earned the discount.
Each of those programs, plans and initiatives is critical to the community’s overall preparedness and ability to respond to and recover from a disaster or emergency, according to the letter.
“Pam does a good job,” Cross said. “She stays on top of it.”
Tucker said writing and updating plans for a variety of events is ongoing. She involves everyone from county departments and emergency personnel to those in Harlem and Grovetown, and private industries.
“This is a constant in this office,” Tucker said. “Training, mitigation – anything we can do in the county to eliminate a disaster or minimize the effects.”
It’s those plans that make times of emergency easier because everyone knows what their role in the response and recovery is.
“Because of all that planning and working together,” Tucker said, “the response and the recovery was seamless in such a fashion I can’t imagine any disaster going as smooth as this one has.”