Augusta debris removal from ice storm half national average

A Mabus Brothers Construction employee moves storm debris into a chipper at Lake Olmstead.

 

The cleanup of Augusta after last month’s ice storm is likely to cost taxpayers half the national average for post-disaster debris removal, and it could be even less in Columbia County.

By the time the last street is cleared in Richmond County, two contractors will receive $13.1 million for completing the task of documenting and disposing of 600,000 cubic yards of debris before the start of the Masters Tournament.

City workers are expected to receive an additional $3 million for their efforts clearing the 100,000 cubic yards of debris found on local roads and neighborhoods before private crews arrived and after they left.

City officials estimate the cleanup will total $16.1 million. That cost averages to $23 per cubic yard of debris removed, which is half the figure historically charged by the Army Corps of Engineers , spokesman Bob Anderson said.

“When it comes to an average cost on debris removal, it is very difficult to pinpoint, mainly because of the variables and characteristics associated with each mission,” said Mark Clark, the disaster program manager for the corps. “Not each disaster is the same, and there are many different types of debris.”

Clark said he has seen debris removal projects range in price from $15 to $60 per cubic yard.

For example, he said Hurricane Sandy cleanup last year in New York City involved private property and small islands, which can require more time and raise costs. The remains from the tornadoes that swept across Alabama and Missouri in 2011 involved private property and construction materials, which made the cleanup complex, Clark added.

Representatives from the federal and Georgia emergency management agencies said their organizations do not maintain per-cubic-yard averages and that debris totals are not available for release.

South Carolina’s Emer­gen­cy Management Division provided data showing its average stands at about $50 per cubic yard of debris.

The South Carolina Forestry Commission estimates $360 million to remove downed timber and in the 21 counties declared a state of emergency. The state Department of Transportation reported $160 million for debris removal and processing. That’s $520 million to clear more than 1 million cubic yards of debris.

Steve Cassell, Augusta’s assistant director of traffic engineering, called the calculation “dangerous” and emphasized that the city is charging much lower rates for debris disposal.

“It is kind of hard to divide the cost into an overall per-cubic-yard rate,” said Cas­­sell, the city’s interim deputy administrator. “There are a lot of contributing factors.”

Cassell said the city has separate unit prices for removing hazardous trees and limbs, running debris management sites, grinding cleared materials and hauling out created mulch.

For example, he said Augusta is paying AshBritt Environmental, a hauling company from Florida, $7.50 for each cubic yard of debris removed. The price increases to $8.50 if a truck travels more than 16 miles to get to a debris management site.

Those costs do not include the $4 rate the city is paying to grind debris into mulch and the $4.50 charge to have the woodchips hauled away.

Pam Tucker, emergency operations director for Columbia County, did not have a problem with calculating debris removal into a per-cubic-yard rate and Tommy Thompson, director of Aiken County Emergency Services, used the formula in updating The Chronicle on his department’s progress, which does not include the cities of Aiken and North Augusta.

The latest estimates show Columbia County expects to pay Ceres Environmental and Witt O’Brien Response Management $8.7 million to document and remove 650,000 cubic yards of debris. When the costs are divided together, Columbia County is paying about $13.50 per cubic yard of debris.

In Aiken County, officials estimate they will pay Thompson Consulting Services and Southern Disaster Recovery $6.5 million to document and remove about 350,000 cubic yards of debris, for an average of $18.65 per cubic yard.

Tucker said she is extremely happy with the overall contract price.

“We sent out requests for proposals for the debris management and monitoring years ago and reviewed several that were submitted,” Tucker said. “This allowed us to develop pre-event contracts in advance of a disaster with the companies that had the best price and overall proposals.”

With no disaster response firms under contract, the city of Augusta used an emergency procurement process to hire Ashbritt and Leidos, the contractor monitoring debris removal. The contracts were based on requests for proposals issued by Chatham and Liberty counties for similar recovery efforts.

Cassell said the city expects to send out a request for proposals for a pre-disaster contract this summer, but he would not say if it would lessen future costs for natural disasters.

 

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