Aiken County debris removal 8-12 weeks from completion



Augusta residents upset about the pace at which private crews are removing ice-storm debris from city streets and neighborhoods should talk to their South Carolina neighbors across the Savannah River.

Aiken County’s hauling contractor, Southern Disaster Recovery, is at least eight to 12 weeks away from removing the 350,000 cubic yards of debris that officials estimate last month’s ice storm dumped on the area, said Tommy Thompson, the director of emergency services.

Richmond County hopes to complete its cleanup by March 31, with Columbia County aiming to finish April 5.

“Aiken County was probably the hardest hit, most affected in South Carolina,” Thompson said of the slow-moving cleanup process. “We also are one of the largest counties at 1,100 square miles, larger than the state of Rhode Island.”

Meteorologists have reported Aiken County received a quarter-inch more of ice from February’s storm than its Georgia neighbors.

The latest Aiken County estimates show it will cost $1.9 million to clear debris from roads; $3.7 million to remove hanging limbs and leaning trees; and $803,419 to grind the materials into mulch, totaling $6.5 million.

Richmond County expects to pay $13.1 million for contractors to document and remove 600,000 cubic yards of debris.

Columbia County estimates show it will spend $8.7 million to monitor and dispose of 650,000 cubic yards of debris.

Each of the three counties expects the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reimburse removal costs on a sliding scale, ranging from 75 to 85 percent.

To help speed Aiken County’s removal process, Thompson said, Southern Disaster Recovery and its monitoring contractor, Thompson Consulting Services (no relation to the director) have hired local subcontractors and individuals to assist.

“Currently, our contractors and subs have more than 50 trucks and trailers in the field with crews, along with more than 50 monitors to verify loads to satisfy FEMA requirements,” he said.

Aiken city workers are nearly 66 percent with the town’s removal, which is estimated to cost $3 million and total 66,000 cubic yards of debris, spokesman Jeremy Hembree said.

In Georgia, crews in Columbia County that total 52 trucks and 82 monitors, have started a second pass in communities along the Savannah River and Interstate 20 and continue to complete the first round of cleanup in areas surrounding Grovetown and Harlem.

Richmond County has 75 hauling crews and more than 140 monitors. This week, it announced plans to begin a second pass Sunday in areas north of Washington Road. Steve Cassell, the assistant director of traffic engineering, said the city continues to finish a first round of cleanup in communities south of Tobacco Road.

“There are a lot of long busy roads in the southern end of the county that have a lot of debris on them,” Cassell said. “Many need police detail for safety reasons.”

Cassell said residents who haven’t been serviced should not worry, adding that crews are averaging 20,000 to 25,000 cubic yards a day of debris and will make it to their area.

The city anticipated collections to begin in private and gated communities Friday. Richmond County could not reach an agreement with the Georgia Department of Transportation to help with state roads. The department said it will handle the removal on its own.

Mickey Martin lives in Cedar Ridge Farms, a subdivision off Brown Road in Hephzibah, and has been waiting nearly a month for crews to make it to his neighborhood.

Martin said he put out his debris the first Monday after the storm and the day of his normal trash pickup.

“Since the first week, it has not been touched at all,” Martin said.

In Cedar Ridge Farms, debris size varies, Martin said.

Some are small, but others are so large that motorists must pull over to allow a single lane of traffic to pass at a time.

“I don’t mind waiting my turn, but it’s upsetting to me that the city is beginning the final stage when they have not been by here once,” Martin said. “It would really be upsetting if they didn’t even come at all.”

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What to do

To schedule a pickup for a house that is missed after debris removals deadlines, Columbia County residents can call (706) 868-3303 after April 5. Rich­mond County residents can call 311, the county’s customer service line, after March 31. Aiken County residents should call (803) 642-1623. No deadline has been set on Aiken County removal, which remains eight to 12 weeks away.