Richmond County Commission gets update on Augusta's storm debris removal effort

Debris removal firm AshBritt Environmental has hauled more than 82,000 cubic yards of winter storm debris in the seven days since the firm started operations in Augusta on Feb. 26, and has at least 117,000 cubic yards to go, said Ralph Natale, director of operations for the monitoring firm hired to oversee storm cleanup.

 

In an update to Augusta commissioners on the debris removal effort, Natale, of Leidos, Inc., said the collection so far is part of a “first pass,” intended to touch every household, and it is nearing completion.

The city hired AshBritt and Leidos Feb. 24 in an emergency procurement based on the firms’ existing contracts with Chatham and Liberty counties at an estimated cost of $8.6 million, with the expectation the Federal Emergency Management Agency will reimburse as much as 85 percent of the cost.

The firm’s efforts so far are in addition to some 100,000 cubic yards of trees, limbs and other organic debris the city Engineering department, several contracted companies and residents had already removed to disposal areas since the winter storm dumped an unprecedented inch of ice on the area Feb. 11-13.

Tuesday, AshBritt had 57 hauling containers and 46 cutting crews across the city, Natale said. Leidos, which monitors the debris removal to ensure it meets FEMA guidelines, has hired 183 local workers, he said.

The cutting crews had removed some 7,000 hazardous limbs as of Tuesday, he said.

Natale said AshBritt is focusing its efforts on the areas hardest-hit but maintains a presence in all of six designated zones that span Augusta-Richmond County.

“There are trucks in every zone throughout the city,” he said.

According to a debris removal status chart, the most cubic yards, more than 9,000, were removed from Zone 1, an area between Washington Road and Gordon Highway, as of Monday.

The firms haven’t provided a schedule of when residents can expect visits from the haulers or cutting crews, but expect to complete the first pass in a week or so, he said. Natale pointed commissioners to a Web site where they could view the position of trucks and activity as it was happening.

Using multiple phases is an industry standard, he said. After the first pass, residents with more debris can move it to the curb for a second pass. The dates of a third and final pass will be announced, he said.

Natale said he expected the firms’ entire cleanup effort to take three to four weeks, while inevitable FEMA auditing and followup will take “years and years.”

“We’ve got the golf tournament coming in a couple of weeks, so thank you for the update,” said Commissioner Joe Jackson. The week of the Masters Tournament starts April 6.

After the update, Com­missioner Marion Williams turned the discussion to how AshBritt and Leidos were selected.

Unlike neighboring Columbia and Aiken counties, Richmond had no “pre-positioned,” competitively bid debris removal contracts in place to handle the amount of debris associated with a disaster.

General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie said the commission’s adoption last week of two resolutions declaring an emergency in Augusta and authorizing the use of piggybacked contracts from Chatham and Liberty was legal and necessary “because of the nature of the debris and how widespread it was” to ensure safety of the public.

FEMA frowns on “piggybacking” existing contracts and tends to audit debris removal efforts extensively because of the possibility for fraud. FEMA “will look at whether our procurement code was followed, and whether the pricing was reasonable,” MacKenzie said.

Commissioner Bill Lockett added that he hoped the same level of effort would be placed on the storm in late April – that is, after the Masters.

“I have no problem with what has been done. It still is a massive job,” he said.

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