City officials at odds over storm debris cleanup
The City of Aiken has done a phenomenal job in cleaning up ice storm debris, according to Mario's Italian Kitchen Owner Franco Petroccitto.
Neighborhood cleanup schedule
As of March 31, City crews are scheduled to work in the following neighborhoods:
Downtown area from Laurens Street S.W. to Charleston Street S.E. and South Boundary to Richland and these cross streets:
• Newberry Street S.W.
• Chesterfield Street S.
• York Street S.E.
• Fairfield Street S.E.
• Union Street S.E.
• Kershaw Street S.E.
• Sumter Street S.E.
• Horry Street S.E.
• Marion Street S.E.
• Williamsburg Street S.E.
• Marlboro Street S.E.
• Orangeburg Street S.E.
• Beaufort Street S.E.
• Berkley Street S.E.
• Charleston Street S.E.
• Safety Hot Spots
• Hitchcock Woods entrance at South Boundary Avenue S.W.
• South Boundary Avenue S.E. to Banks Mill Road
• Banks Mill Road
List is subject to change depending on weather or conditions beyond control.
City staff are aware that the S.C. Department of Transportation subcontractors have picked debris in the following areas:
• Crosland Park
• Rutland Drive
• Hitchcock Parkway
• Alpine Drive
• Aiken Estates
• Kalmia Hill (North of Richland Ave.)
City expects to continue debris cleanup in the North Richland Avenue area the week of April 7.
— According to the City of Aiken website (www.cityofaikensc.gov).
Petroccitto's response comes after City Councilman Dick Dewar's letter to the editor was published last week in the Aiken Standard, titled “City not forthcoming in cleanup.”
Dewar was responding to a statement run the day before in the Aiken Standard from City Manager Richard Pearce, in which Pearce said City crews were working diligently to clean up city limits and were “ahead of schedule.”
In his letter, Dewar said he did not know how Pearce could state that City crews were ahead of schedule in debris cleanup.
“Had he assumed a great sense of urgency and used available contractors, our progress would be substantially ahead of where we are now,” Dewar wrote in his letter to the editor.
“Richard has done a phenomenal job in cleaning up the city with the resources he has to work with,” Petroccitto said. “It's been a topic of conversation with many people, and we think the City has done a wonderful job, and those comments (Dewar) are deplorable and unprofessional.”
City of Aiken officials respond to letter
Pearce said it was not his responsibility to respond to Dewar's letter, and he refused to do so.
“It's my responsibility to do the work that Council wants me to do, and we've put out detailed information to you (Aiken Standard), Council and to the public,” Pearce said. “And it's the No. 1 responsibility to provide information and to provide facts.”
Other Council members shared the same sentiment.
Councilmen Steve Homoki and Philip Merry said they haven't had a real issue getting information, but could understand frustration during a federal disaster.
“I've gotten all the information I've needed,” Homoki said. “I'm always able to get an answer back from Richard every time I asked him a specific question. It's a difficult situation, and everyone is busting their chops trying to get things done.”
Merry said he's generally been satisfied with information.
“It could be that I'm not asking the same questions as others are,” Merry said. “But I'm not really sure, and I just couldn't say what the issue would be.”
But not everyone is satisfied.
Councilman Reggie Ebner said it's not necessarily the numbers Pearce shared in the article he has a problem with, but that staff has not come forward with information to Council prior to public knowledge.
“The job of cleaning up we have to do is overwhelming,” Ebner said. “But it's just this problem with knowing what's going on is what I have a complaint about.”
The longevity of ice storm debris cleanup
The effects of Winter Storm Pax – which dumped thick ice across Aiken County on Feb. 11, causing mass power outages and major tree damage – have led to criticism from some city residents about why it has taken so long for crews to pick up debris.
“Every week we try to make a schedule, and we keep doing better in pickup,” Pearce said. “We picked up about 80,000 cubic yards 10 years ago, which took 13 weeks. We're right at about six weeks of working on this pile. That's about 33 days, and we've picked up the same amount of debris. We are ahead of where we expected to be. ... It was a very severe storm, and it's going to take two to three months to pick up.”
Both Pearce and Public Works Director Tim Coakley said since last Friday, crews picked up about 87.5 percent of debris in the first pass, which amounts to about 79,437 yards. 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.
By procedure, Pearce told the Aiken Standard that crews try and work in the “worst” areas first, where debris has caused heavy damage or safety hazards.
“It takes about three runs to get all the debris out,” Pearce told the Aiken Standard. “We're looking at a little more than one month in, and about two to three months to go.”
But that quote was the impetus for Dewar's letter, which he said gave the impression the City was further along with debris pickup, and they weren't, Dewar said.
Another issue Dewar has is the City's schedule on debris pickup, which according to Dewar, doesn't really keep a pace.
“Residents just want a rough idea of when we can expect people (crews) in our neighborhood,” Dewar said. “The mayor and I spoke to Richard about working on a schedule. First was listed streets, and then we didn't make the first day. They smartly realized, probably, let's not tie our hands down.”
Regardless of opinion, many thankful for crews
The one aspect of debris cleanup that all City officials have voiced is that they cannot be more thankful for the hard work and long hours from the crews.
“Under the disastrous ice storm we had, I think our city manager, staff and employees have done a very good job of handling the cleanup, and we still have a ways to go,” Mayor Fred Cavanaugh said. “But it is going faster now. In my view, having moved to Aiken 60 years ago, this was the worst weather event I have been through or heard of. It was worse than the one in 2004.”
Merry and Cavanaugh said the majority of residents they have spoken to have been patient and understanding.
“To their credit, most citizens have been very understanding, patient and complimentary of the crews,” Merry said. “People of the City of Aiken deserve a lot of credit for their patience. It still doesn't mean we don't need to try and push it (the timeline of debris pickup).”
City Council member Gail Diggs said she has witnessed the hard work of cleanup crews throughout the morning and night.
“I think Tim Coakley and his crew have done a tremendous job,” Diggs said. “I see these guys in the morning and late in the evening, and they're working their butts off.”
Maayan Schechter is the local government reporter with Aiken Standard. Follow her on Twitter @MaayanSchechter.