County hopes for FEMA reimbursement for storm debris cleanup

OKEECHOBEE — The county continues to incur costs for storm-related damages, according to information presented at the Dec. 28 meeting of the Okeechobee County Board of Commissioners.

According to county administrator Robbie Chartier, the county will be reimbursed for a significant portion of those costs.

At their Dec. 28 meeting, the Okeechobee County commission authorized amendment of the contract with Culpepper & Terpening for Emergency Debris Monitoring Services not to exceed $107,880.17, which is eligible for reimbursement by FEMA.

The change was necessary because the storm debris in Okeechobee County exceeded the National Hurricane Center’s estimate.

The National Hurricane Center should stay in the business of hurricane forecasting and not estimating debris, said Commission Chairman Terry Burroughs.

“What exacerbated this problem is that there was only so much room curbside for the debris,” said Commissioner Bryant Culpepper. Some property owners had to wait until after the first pass had been done to stack more debris at the curb, he said.

In Okeechobee County, 132,925 cubic yard of storm debris was collected. Debris was chipped or burned with the ashes of burned debris taken to the landfill.

According to the staff report, on Sept. 9 and 10, Okeechobee County sustained extensive damage to trees, bushes, and other related vegetation, as well as, damage to residential and commercial structures from Hurricane Irma. Once the storm had passed, County Damage Assessment Teams surveyed the county and estimated hurricane debris damage amounts to be approximately 60,000 to 80,000 cubic yards. The National Hurricane Center estimated hurricane debris cubic yards to be less than 100,000 cubic yards for Okeechobee County, based on the west coastline tracking model.

On Sept. 21, the county administrator approved a Work Authorization within her spending authority of $25,000 with Culpepper & Terpening for Emergency Debris Monitoring Services in order to activate the county’s approved hurricane debris collection contractor.

On Sept. 22, the county’s approved hurricane debris contractor (Crowder Gulf) began debris collection from county and city roadways/right-of-ways in Okeechobee County.

At their Sept. 26 meeting, commissioners approved and executed a Work Authorization with Culpepper & Terpening, Inc., in the amount of $268,800 for debris monitoring services to track debris collected by Crowder Gulf.

On Oct. 20, the first debris collection pass was completed, which totaled 97,588 cubic yards of debris. On Oct. 18, the second and final debris collection pass was started and debris collection was completed on Nov. 8 and crews began removal of hanger trees, leaner trees and collection of any missed debris piles, which added an additional 35,337 cubic yards of debris for a grand total of 132,925 cubic yards. Due to the unsuspected large volume of hurricane debris and increase in debris collection, crews by Crowder Gulf needed to collect debris in a timely manner, which increased the number of monitoring staff (required by FEMA), the project cost exceeded the $268,800 approved in the Work Authorization, the staff report explained.

All processing, burning, grinding and disposal of vegetative debris from the Debris Management Site (DMS) at the County Industrial Park was completed on Dec. 8. DMS Site prep is currently under way, which includes site work for dirt leveling and seeding to restore the site to original or better condition.

County staff received an invoice from Culpepper & Terpening for the month of November, totaling $87,880.17 for monitoring services. County staff estimates that monitoring service cost for December will not exceed $20,000, which includes meetings with staff and FEMA representatives, debris ticket and document reviews and document submittal/reporting requirements related to FEMA reimbursement procedures.

County officials could not estimate how long it will take to obtain reimbursement of storm related expenses from FEMA.

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