May 6, 2014 10:26:26 AM
Lowndes County was one of seven counties in Mississippi declared a federal disaster area after it was hit by five tornadoes last week.
This qualifies the county to be reimbursed 75 percent for the cost of cleanup. However, failing to follow guidelines set forth by the Federal Emergency Management Agency could jeopardize the federal money from coming in. One of the guidelines states county crews cannot enter private land.
County supervisors authorized county administrator Ralph Billingsley on Monday to solicit quotes from private contractors for debris removal. The county will also have to hire a company to monitor and document the cleanup to show FEMA that it has followed all regulations necessary to be reimbursed.
A deadline for bid submission has not been set. Once that is established and time is up, Billinglsey and county road manager Ronnie Burns will review bids for both cleanup and monitoring and make selections. Multiple contractors can be selected for the cleanup to expedite the process. The county could technically monitor the cleanup itself, but Billingsley said having someone else to do so would be advantageous.
"I believe we would be way ahead of the game if we got a professional group that does this for a living ... to keep up with this paperwork," Billingsley said.
A crew of 30 county road workers were clearing roads after the storms hit. Debris on county right of way and private property will remain there until contractors are selected and FEMA instructs them how to proceed, Burns added.
"If you move it now and you don't do it right, you won't get paid for it," Burns said.
The city has already hired five monitors to follow public works crews during its cleanup process, but it will not hire a private contractor for cleanup. The two routes for residents who still have fallen trees and limbs on their property is to hire a contractor themselves or seek volunteer assistance.
City public works crews will continue to pick up disaster debris on city right-of-way through May 19.
All debris will be disposed of at the Columbus Landfill.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
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