Citing debris totals that have more than doubled since February’s ice storm, city officials said Tuesday that an additional $5 million is needed for contract crews to complete the monumental cleanup job it began in Augusta three weeks ago.
Speaking before the Augusta Commission during a special called session, Steve Cassell, interim deputy city administrator, said the amount of debris required for removal by contract crews was originally estimated at 250,000 cubic yards but has turned out to be 600,000 cubic yards.
As a result, the Augusta Commission unanimously voted to increase the contracts for the two companies it hired Feb. 24 to remove and monitor debris left on city streets and in local neighborhoods.
AshBritt Environmental, a debris-hauling company from Florida, saw its $8 million contract increase by $3.2 million and Leidos, a national defense contractor based in Virginia, saw its debris-monitoring fee increase from $600,000 to $1.9 million.
Both contracts are expected to be paid up to 80 percent by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, with the city and state splitting the remaining costs. But not all costs may qualify for reimbursement.
Because private subdivisions and gated communities have their own homeowners associations, city staff said FEMA frowns on assisting them and might not reimburse the city for associated cleanup costs.
Knowing the risks involved, the Augusta Commission voted to help remove debris from the areas, which include the Summerchase and Conifer Place neighborhoods, and the Woodbine West and Rockbrook condominiums.
“They are taxpaying citizens,” said District 7 Commissioner Donnie Smith, who represents the affected neighborhoods and communities. “They all buy city water, receive city trash service and pay city property taxes. We should help.”
Super District 9 Commissioner Marion Williams voted to remove debris from private residential communities but was initially cautious of the idea.
City officials said they will have FEMA, which has representatives in town, tour the areas to see if they qualify.
“If we do private subdivisions and gated communities we open up a whole new can of worms with taxpayer dollars,” he said. “We have people right now on public roadways that we can’t reach.”
So far, Cassell said, nearly 370,000 cubic yards of debris has been collected, which officials estimate is enough to fill the nine-story Municipal Building eight times, floor to ceiling.
The assistant of traffic engineering said crews have completed 90 percent of their first pass through the city and that he expects his office to announce a last call for debris today, with plans to start a second pass Friday.
It is estimated the entire city will be cleared by March 31.
Cassell said 75 hauling crews are clearing city streets. He said the 183 monitors Leidos hired to track debris removal have processed 302 applications.
Commission members commended the effort but said more attention is needed on Wheeler and Windsor Spring roads.
Cassell assured all areas will be reached and the commission approved the city to negotiate an agreement with the Georgia Department of Transportation to help clear state highways, including Washington, Deans Bridge and Peach Orchard roads. The agreement would only be accepted if the state agrees to pick up all costs not reimbursed by FEMA.
The commission also gave interim Administrator Tameka Allen permission to accept proposals for a financial recovery specialist to help the city get reimbursed for all storm-related costs it incurs.
“We want to make sure we get reimbursed for every cost associated with this storm,” Allen said.