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Stories Added - October 2008
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Commissioners to handle debris removal
Trinity Standard - October 2008
GROVETON – After receiving bids from contractors based as far away as Florida and Georgia, Trinity County commissioners decided Monday to handle the Hurricane Ike debris cleanup using county workers.
During their meeting Monday, commissioners expressed disap-pointment that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had postponed their promised evaluation of the local debris.
Pct. 1 Commissioner Grover “Tiger” Worsham noted that FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had promised to provide a detailed map of the piles of downed trees and tree limbs located along county roads along with a cubic-yard estimate of the amount that needed to be picked up.
Worsham noted that because they weren’t going to receive that evaluation in a timely manner, any contractor that would be hired would need to be monitored closely to make sure they were living up to the contract.
“If we’re going to have to have someone watching them that closely, I think we might as well just do the job ourselves,” Worsham said.
“We’ve done it before. We did it after (Hurricane) Rita,” he added.
Pct. 4 Commissioner James Alford said he had already discussed the matter with his road and bridge crews and told the other commissioners, “My guys are ready to start.”
Pct. 3 Commissioner Cecil Webb said his crews also could handle the cleanup.
Because Webb also maintains the roads in Precinct 2 under a contract with Pct. 2 Commissioner Jannette Hortman, his road and bridge workers also would clean up the debris in that precinct.
County Judge Mark Evans noted that initially FEMA was only going to pay for 100 percent of the cleanup costs through Sept. 27. Cleanup after that date was to be reimbursed at a rate of 75 percent.
However, Evans said President George Bush had extended the deadline for an additional 30 days which means the county could get 100 percent reimbursement for all work completed by Oct. 27.
Worsham noted that many area landowners had already cleaned up a great deal of the debris themselves but there still are many piles of material located along the county road right-of-ways.
In addition, there are a number of “hangers and leaners” – trees that are in danger of falling – that pose a threat to safety along the right-of-ways.
Because the county does not have the equipment needed to remove the “hangers and leaners,” Worsham said they may have either borrow or rent equipment. He added that they also might contract with some of the debris removal companies to assist with the removal of the hazardous trees.
Previously, the commissioners had agreed to use a pilot program being offered by FEMA for the debris removal.
Under the program, the Corps of Engineers would provide the detailed estimate of the amount of debris as well as a map of its location.
FEMA would then negotiate with the county and reach an agreement on how much FEMA would pay. The federal agency would then present the county with a check for its portion of the cost before the actual cleanup got underway.
Contractors bidding on the work would have access to the debris map and estimated amount and would be asked to bid a flat fee for the work.
Because the Corps of Engineers evaluation was postponed until sometime after the new Oct. 27 deadline for 100 reimbursement, commissioners indicated they could not wait and needed to get the work done in order to meet the new cutoff date.
Although the commissioners did not open the seven bids they received for the debris removal on Monday, Evans suggested that he and County Auditor Sheila Johnson be allowed to review them and make recommendations concerning a possible contract with one of the debris removal companies.
The proposed contract would enable the county to have a cleanup contract in place in the event another disaster such as Ike required debris removal.
“If we had a contract in place, then the next time this happens we would not have to wait,” Evans said. “We could have the contractor come in and start work almost immediately.”
The commissioners agreed and Evans said he would report back to at a future meeting.
During the meeting, commissioners also:
• Learned that for the first time in a long time, the Trinity County Jail in Groveton passed its annual inspection on the first try. While the Texas Commission on Jail Standards has approved the jail, it has taken more than one visit after inspectors initially found problems with paperwork or other items.
• Authorized the purchase of a software package for the Trinity County Sheriff’s Department at a cost of $8,249. The computer software is designed to handle officer reports and keep track of fines collected.
• Authorized the purchase of three new Ford F-150 pickups for use by the sheriff’s department at a cost of $89,703.
• Approved the purchase of a 2008 Volvo motor grader for the Precinct 1 road and bridge department. After being credited for $35,500 on a trade-in, the motor grader will cost $118,826.
• Learned from Evans that he has been in negotiations with the Texas Comptroller’s office over a disputed $400,000 the county feels it is owed as part of the mineral fees received on the Davy Crockett National Forest. Under the current system, the U.S. Forest Service pays the counties a percentage of mineral income obtained on the forest. It sends the money to the Comptroller, which distributes it to Houston and Trinity counties.
Evans noted that this past year, income from the mineral fees was up substantially from years past and for some reason, the Comptroller gave 90 percent of it to Houston County.
“According to the information I received directly from the forest service, Houston County does deserve a larger percentage, but it should be split closer to 60-40, not 90-10,” Evans said.
Evans said officials in Austin are looking at the situation and it is probable that this year’s pending mineral fee check would include the money that should have been paid to Trinity County last year.
• Learned that the annual U.S. Forest Service payments to Trinity County under the Secure Rural Schools and Communities Act would continue but would be “ramped down” over the next four years. Evans noted the renewal of funding was attached to the federal bank bailout bill approved earlier this month, but the annual amounts paid would be decreased each year to allow local governments to find other funding sources to replace it.
Last year, the bill provided about $300,000 to the county’s road and bridge departments and an additional $300,000 that was divided among the county’s school districts.
Money from the bill was designed to offset the loss of tax income caused by having the Davy Crockett National Forest located with the county and school jurisdictions.
• Reappointed Dr. Larry Quan of Trinity as the county health officer.
• Received a report from Sharon Owens of the Department of State Health Services regarding emergency plans that are now in place in the event that health officials needed to dispense medications to the public. Owens noted that planning is underway statewide and drills are being conducted to insure officials could distribute large amounts of medications in the event of an emergency. Under the local plan, Owens noted that both Trinity and Groveton high schools would be the “PODs” or points of distribution.
• Proclaimed November as Home Care and Hospice Month in Trinity County.