County hires contractors for debris removal

May 15, 2014 10:34:30 AM

Nathan Gregory - [email protected]


Tornado debris pickup began outside of the Columbus city limits this morning after Lowndes County hired two companies for the job.  


Columbia, Mississippi, company Looks Great Services' $93,400 contract is based on an estimated 12,500 cubic yards of tree limbs and stumps that need to be removed from county right-of-way, but each of those numbers is likely to grow, Lowndes County Administrator Ralph Billingsley said.  


To date, the city has had more than 2,500 tons of debris removed since May 2 after tornadoes tore through the area on April 28. 


True North, a subsidiary of Neel-Schaffer, was awarded the bid to monitor cleanup and ensure it meets guidelines for the county to receive the 75 percent cleanup reimbursement it is eligible for from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The area was declared a federal disaster area two days after an outbreak of more than 20 tornadoes hit Mississippi April 28. Officials with the National Weather Service in Jackson later confirmed five of those in Lowndes County.  


Billingsley said how much both contractors receive will depend on the number of cubic yards of debris collected. Looks Great crews must remove a minimum of 1,000 of cubic yards from the sides of county roads each day as part of the contract, which puts the cleanup being completed in less than two weeks. However, he expects the process will take closer to a month because FEMA's estimate is likely less than the actual amount of damage. 


"When the FEMA people are going through estimating, there's a whole lot of debris that's in back yards and not out at the roads yet, so it's hard for them to estimate what it is," Billingsley said.  


Five field monitors and one to two supervisors at a time will be spread throughout the county to oversee and document the removal, while one more monitor will be on standby at the Columbus landfill to take pictures of debris being dumped there as required by FEMA. 


Four cubic yards of mixed debris converts to one ton, according to FEMA, which means the early estimated amount is 3,125 tons. 




City cleanup progresses 


Columbus project managing firm J5 Broaddus is overseeing cleanup inside the city limits, which is being conducted by 12-19 public works employees at a time as well as five temporary monitors.  


J5 Broaddus Senior Project Manager Robyn Eastman said crews are working 12-hour days during the week and six hours on Saturday, running 28 to 36 loads of debris a day to the landfill among five trucks that can carry anywhere from 620 to 720 cubic yards in a trip. 


The first of three pass-throughs of more than 200 city roads has been completed, Rick Mason of J5 Broaddus said Wednesday. Crews were in the process of a second run on Fallwood Drive where strong winds blew down a large oak tree in resident Chuck Farr's front yard. He said he gave someone $75 to cut trees that fell down in his back yard and haul them to the side of the road for pickup. Farr's home received no major damage, and the sight of city crews coming through his neighborhood a second time is an added relief, he said. 


"With all the damage all over town, I'm very pleased with the response," Farr said. 


Eastman estimated a total accumulation of 3,500 tons once all the debris is picked up. He said he's recommending the city uses what FEMA reimburses for the work for maintenance on the trucks and equipment that have been used more than 60 hours a week since cleanup began.  


"Our goal all along was to be done the week of the 19th, and right now we're on schedule," Eastman said. "We're going to be done next Thursday with all the debris in the city."

Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.