City Manager: ‘We’re ahead of schedule’ on debris pick up

  • Posted: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 12:01 a.m.
Staff photo by Maayan Schechter
City Manager Richard Pearce said City crews are ahead of ice storm debris pickup, which includes cleanup on South Boundary.
Staff photo by Maayan Schechter City Manager Richard Pearce said City crews are ahead of ice storm debris pickup, which includes cleanup on South Boundary.

The City of Aiken hopes to have picked up all ice storm debris in its first pass within the next 10 days, according to Public Works Director Tim Coakley.

Fact Box

This week, City of Aiken crews are expected to clean up debris in the following neighborhoods:

-Houndslake

-Houndslake North

-Southwood

-Forest Drive, Shadow Drive, up to Gregg

-Hampton, Edrie

-Crosland

-Woodside

-Safety hot spots

Note: Rye Patch debris removal has been completed.

For the week of March 13 crews were expected to clean up in the following neighborhoods:

-Crosland Park and Northside (extra crew added)

-The Villas and Reflections in Houndslake

-Woodside

-Whitehall

-Two Notch Road

-Boardman Road

-Equestrian District

-Hopelands Gardens cleanup

According to the City of Aiken website at www.cityofaikensc.gov.

Aiken Standard poll results:

How do you think Aiken responded to the storm clean up?

Total votes: 340

Good - 23 percent

Fair - 24 percent

Excellent - 17 percent

It was a learning experience - 37 percent

The City is picking up debris in three passes, City staff said. The first pass is still in progress, and the City has two left to go. A “pass” is one sweep through all City neighborhoods, City officials said.

City Manager Richard Pearce and Coakley said that since Friday, crews picked up about 87.5 percent of debris in the first pass, which amounts to about 79,437 cubic yards.

Unlike cleanup progress in the City of North Augusta and Aiken County, the City is receiving some criticism over storm debris that has not been picked up since Winter Storm Pax, which dumped thick ice across the County on Feb. 11, causing mass power outages and major tree damage.

Coakley said he could not answer why progress seems to be lacking for many residents in the Aiken City limits. Instead, Coakley deferred the question to Pearce.

An answer, according to Pearce, is other areas such as North Augusta did not receive as much debris as Aiken did after Winter Storm Pax.

“I’ve talked with several different cities, and they’ve said Aiken bore the brunt of the winter storm damage,” Pearce said. “I think (the) staff is doing an outstanding job, and they’re doing it so safely. ... They’re doing an excellent job working efficiently.”

North Augusta’s City Administrator Todd Glover said crews finished their first pass a week ago on Sunday, collecting about 35,000 cubic yards with help from the S.C. Department of Transportation, and are now onto their regular trash routes. Aiken County has picked up an estimated 365,000 cubic yards – 73 percent, according to County Administrator Clay Killian. Killian said he hopes that county debris cleanup will be done by the end of April.

Pearce said by procedure, crews try and work in the “worst” areas first, where debris has caused heavy damage or safety hazards. Both Coakley and Pearce said one of the ongoing problems is that after crews pick up debris in one area, residents will do yard work and put debris back in the same spot.

“It takes about three runs to get all the debris out,” Pearce said. “We’re looking at a little more than one month in, and about two to three months to go.”

Pearce said they hope to have at least downtown cleared before The Masters Tournament. In February, Coakley told Aiken Standard City crews had only picked up just 12 percent of storm debris in the first week – 13 percent less than initially expected.

But according to Pearce, crews were never behind schedule, and if anything, are now ahead.

“I’m not aware we’re behind schedule,” Pearce said. “Look at 10 years ago – it took us three months to pick up 100,000 cubic yards of debris. This time after a little more than four weeks, we’ve picked up over 79,000 cubic yards of debris. ... We have more material this go around. We’re moving two to three times faster.”

So far, the City has paid about $34,000 in overtime to workers, according to Pearce. The City hopes to receive reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. He said that depends on how much overtime the City can recover.

“We probably had the most significant winter storm event in the history of the City,” Pearce said. “We appreciate the folks’ patience. In 2010, it took three months to do cleanup, and that’s the only experience I have in large collections of debris. From that schedule 10 years ago, we’re ahead of schedule.”

Coakley said the City has not set a goal date to have all three passes complete.

“It’s such an ever-changing environment,” Coakley said. “It’s hard to predict down the road, and I’d hate to forecast a date.”

Maayan Schechter is the local government reporter with Aiken Standard. Follow her on Twitter @MaayanSchechter.

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