Disobedient residents and unlicensed tree service companies have hindered storm debris cleanup in Columbia and Richmond counties, officials said Sunday.
Pam Tucker, the director of Columbia County’s Emergency and Operations Division, said contractors have had to backtrack through areas previously cleared to remove new piles of broken limbs from February’s ice storm.
Part of the problem, Tucker said, has been that tree service companies hired by residents have come in to cut hanging limbs, but leave the limbs in the right of way.
“(The debris removal companies) are contracted to do two passes; it’s not like they belong to the county forever,” Tucker said. “The taxpayers may end up having to pay for this because the responsibility will fall to the Roads and Bridges Department.”
On Saturday afternoon, contractors removed a pile in the 500 block of Stevens Creek Road, near a four-way stop on Evans to Locks Road. Columbia County sheriff’s deputies later learned that the pile had been left by an out-of-state tree service company, Tucker said.
The company, which had a revoked business license, called the contracted debris removal company’s office hotline to report the pile and indicated that there were several other piles throughout the area. The sheriff’s office issued the company a warning, Tucker said, and it has until Monday afternoon to clean up the debris.
“This is only one example of how frustrating it is to have to pick up the same area four or five times while some areas in the northern part of the county have not even had the first pick-up,” Tucker said in an e-mail. “We are trying hard to finish, but someone is acting selfishly by continuing to drop off on the main roads.”
As of Saturday morning, crews have removed more than 531,000 cubic yards of debris in Columbia County and cut 13,051 hanging limbs. Out of the 48 zones in Columbia County, 24 have been completely cleared.
Richmond County has experienced similar problems, but interim Deputy Administrator Steve Cassell said he isn’t sure how widespread the issue is. Most of the debris cleared by workers has been legitimate, he said.
As of Saturday evening, contractors have cleared nearly 601,000 cubic yards of debris in Richmond County. Of the county’s 19 designated zones, three have been completely cleared.
“We’ve made it clear that we’re not coming back through,” Cassell said. “We’ll have to look at it to see how widespread it is, but (the piles) may just have to sit there.”
He said authorities will look into the problem. Once an area has been deemed clear, residents must follow normal restrictions for solid waste collection.
In Columbia County, residents have been urged to call the sheriff’s office at (706) 541-2800 to report anyone putting debris in “100 percent cleared zones.”
New piles will no longer be picked up in Columbia County, Tucker said. Any debris left out in zones that have been cleared will be the responsibility of the homeowner.