SCDOT contractors making progress in debris cleanup
The S.C. Department of Transportation contractors, many armed with double-trailered trucks, cranes and heavy equipment, are now working inside Aiken City limits. Since pitching into the effort this week, they have already cleared more than a projected 20,000 cubic yards of the City's ice storm debris.
City crews have collected more than 100,000 cubic yards of ice storm debris, according to City Manager Richard Pearce.
Pearce said beginning on Monday, the City will return to normal yard trash collection, on a limited basis.
Ice storm debris cleanup schedule:
– City crews are expected to pick up debris in the Gatewood subdivision
SCDOT subcontractors are picking up debris in the following areas:
– Kalmia Hill
– Colleton Avenue
– Maple Drive
– Palm Drive
According to the City of Aiken website (www.cityofaikensc.gov.)
The process is what SCDOT's contractor J.B Coxwell's Project Coordinator Jared Williford calls a “revolving operation.” J.B. Coxwell and its subcontractors hauled loads of ice storm debris from state-owned roads onto the Aiken Fairgrounds, where it was ground into mulch. Another crew member picked up the mulch and hauled it back onto trucks to send out to SCDOT disposal or recycling facilities.
For one month, SCDOT contractors were hardly seen in city limits. Some officials said there was confusion as to who was working what roads, but other sources said SCDOT officials were told to completely stay out of city limits.
A state official constantly eyeing the cleanup progress is S.C. Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken. Beginning Feb. 13, Young said he has been in constant communication with local officials on all levels about what he could do to assist in the storm cleanup effort.
“As part of continuing to follow up, that's when I asked about last Thursday, regarding SCDOT and the City of Aiken,” Young said. “I called both to find out, No. 1: Was SCDOT helping within the City of Aiken to remove storm debris from state roads? And two, if not, what needed to happen in order for that to start?”
Young said his understanding was that SCDOT was under the impression its crews weren't to work within the city limits, and Young said when he learned of this last Thursday, he made phone calls.
City Manager Richard Pearce said any indication SCDOT contractors were told to stay out of city limits did not come from him.
Leland Colvin, SCDOT chief engineer of operations, issued a letter to City Manager Richard Pearce on April 1 stating SCDOT activated on-call debris contractors and monitoring firms in 19 “critically affected counties” across the state, including Aiken County. That work came with the intent of keeping all associated costs eligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, financial aid, according to the letter.
The letter was passed around during a City Council work session on debris cleanup on Tuesday. In the letter, Colvin said based on conversations with City officials, SCDOT contractors would remove debris on state roads in the city limits, but not in the historic district.
But as of Wednesday, large trucks were seen picking up debris inside the City's historic district, as well. Colvin said, initially, they were told to stay out of that area, but then from discussions with Pearce and “per your (Pearce's) request regarding the scope of work within the city limits of Aiken,” SCDOT contractors entered the historic district, according to a letter issued on April 2.
“This revised scope supersedes my April 1 letter, as SCDOT will include the state roads within the historical central district,” Colvin said. “It remains our intent to keep all costs associated with operations conducted by SCDOT FEMA eligible. Finally, it is still my understanding that SCDOT contractors will not perform any cutting operations within city limits.”
Pearce said the historic district contains a lot of infrastructure, irrigation, special plant material and signage on the Arbor Walkway, and staff were very concerned about possible damage.
In a City Council work session on Tuesday, contractors assured Pearce the City would be reimbursed for any damage to infrastructure related to their services.
Another issue, said officials, is the concern over whether the City will receive full FEMA reimbursement since City crews were picking up debris on SCDOT right-of-ways – which was covered under the state disaster recovery contract.
“It definitely concerns me,” Young said. “If any of this is accurate or an issue, I will do all I can to overcome that hurdle.”
Pearce wouldn't answer whether this was an issue of concern, but said the City would seek all reimbursement the City was entitled to receive.
Derrec Becker, public information coordinator with the S.C. Emergency Management Division, said the FEMA review process is still ongoing, and he could not give a specific answer as to whether the City will still receive full reimbursement on both City streets and the state right-of-ways that have been raised as a concern.
“Every situation is unique, and it's all based and judged on the paperwork submitted,” Becker said. “They will look at what is all eligible and what is ineligible. So, there's no real set standard. At this point, it's based on what the arrangement was with the City and SCDOT. If there was anything that they (City) incurred ineligible, it could be appealed – that's a long process.”
Any work covered by SCDOT contractors is also incurred by SCDOT and not at the City of Aiken's expense, according to Colvin.
Maayan Schechter is the local government reporter with Aiken Standard.