Augusta contracted storm cleanup cost rises to $16.4 million

The price of contracted cleanup behind Winter Storm Pax crept higher Tues­day, to $16.4 million, while some areas of the city probably won’t be com­pletely free of storm debris before Masters Week.


Interim Deputy Administrator Steve Cassell requested $2.5 million more for contractors Ashbritt Environmental and Leidos, based on revised debris estimates of 725,000 cubic yards. The commission approved the increase 9-1, with Commissioner Marion Williams abstaining.

“Once they get in, the price keeps changing,” Williams said. “Where’s the checks and balances?”

Mayor Deke Copenhaver, likening the level of destruction to a Category 2 hurricane, said the firms’ close monitoring of the amount and type of debris was “extremely accurate.”

The cost, with expected FEMA reimbursement of 85 percent for the first 30 days, is in addition to the city’s in-house expense of paying hourly staff overtime and paying some non-hourly staff for extra hours worked in the days after the February storm.

Cassell estimated 85 percent of the work had been completed, but said all areas won’t be clear by next week, when out-of-town contracting crews will lose their motel rooms to golf tourists with reservations. Cassell said the firms will have to return after the tournament, in part to close out staging areas still full of debris.

“We need some assurance to make sure the people realize that Leidos and Ashbritt will be coming back,” said Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle, whose rural District 8 includes areas last to be cleared.

“We’re close, we’ve got crews all the way down to the county line right now,” he said.

After Masters Week, “there will still be some cleanup at the debris management sites,” although not at current levels.

In other action Tuesday, commissioners:

• Approved 6-4 a motion to allow Copenhaver to sign off on Federal Aviation Administration grant awards to Augusta Regional Airport during 2014. To commissioner questions about the need for such an agreement, airport spokeswoman Diane Johnston said the FAA sometimes looks for airports to dispense of leftover grant funds, but airports must be ready to approve them.

• Approved $200,000 from the city’s capital outlay budget for a first phase of demolition of abandoned, blighted properties. Planning and Development manager Rob Sherman said tearing down the remainder of identified properties will require additional funds that the commission could authorize or could come from Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax 7. The sales tax package going before voters May 20 includes $4 million for demolitions.

• Approved exempting senior executive staff and department heads from having to punch in and out on a time clock. “Not to have SES employees clocking out is not going to cost this government anything,” said Commissioner Bill Lockett, urging the city to respect its staff.

• Authorized Human Resources Director Tanika Bryant to look for funding to cover raises for a handful of department heads, including herself and Procurement Director Geri Sams, paid below other department heads with the same qualifications and experience.

• Referred the issue of Equal Employment Op­portunity Director Jacqueline Humphrey’s job title, which was called “coordinator” in commission meeting minutes when she was hired, to a work session. Bryant said at an earlier meeting Humphrey should be reclassified as a coordinator based on a review of the job, while the city’s Consolidation Act combines Equal Employment Opportunity duties with the small and disadvantaged contracting responsibilities currently overseen by Dis­advantaged Business En­terprise Coordinator Yvonne Gentry.

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