Polk County Enterprise - Local News
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County holds emergency meeting on debris removal
Polk County Enterprise - September 2008
LIVINGSTON – Polk County commissioners met Friday afternoon in an emergency meeting as they sought a way to prevent the county from being stuck with a multimillion dollar tab for removing debris left by Hurricane Ike. County Judge John Thompson expressed his frustration with the bureaucratic process involved in obtaining FEMA reimbursement. The meeting included a conference call on speaker phone with FEMA public assistance representatives who were willing to point the county in a general direction for contracting the removal of debris, but were not willing to put that guidance in writing or give specifi c answers to the majority of Thompson’s questions. The county has approximately 500,000 cubic yards of debris for removal, according to an initial assessment by FEMA representatives. The Army Corps of Engineers is proposing $40 per cubic yard for removal, leaving someone with a tab of $20 million.
Thompson and county commissioners are trying to make certain that Polk County taxpayers are responsible for as little of that as possible, with zero being the ultimate goal. At issue is a tangle of statutes and FEMA regulations and how they play out when juxtaposed with the county’s disaster plan. After Hurricane Rita, federal offi cials eventually agreed to pay 100 percent of the reasonable cost associated with debris removal and there is a possibility they will do so again. As of the court’s meeting, however, that decision had not been made. Ultimately, the county decided to take the chance of being stuck with as much as 25 percent of the fi nal bill by following state statutes requiring a 14-day public notice and bidding process.
With the proposed amount of debris removal, the county could still have to absorb $1 million or more of the cost in a 75/25 split. In the interim, county workers in each precinct will begin hauling away debris. Several scenarios were discussed during the hour-long meeting, including the possibility that the county could take bids in an emergency situation without meeting guidelines for regular public notices – currently 14 days – or that the county could hire a contractor on a time and materials basis for up to 70 hours – calculated as 7 consecutive 10-hour days – while waiting for the public notice and bidding process to play out.