The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

March 15, 2012

County’s role in cleanup may be known Monday


East Limestone residents concerned debris removal following the March 2 tornadoes may learn what role, if any, the county will play at Monday’s County Commission meeting.

Commission Chairman Stanley Menefee said officials were “still debating” what to do on Thursday, though they were trying to secure a possible burn spot near Limestone Correctional Facility.

“We’re still talking about if we want to pick up vegetative debris, do we pick it all up or do we not pick any of it up,” Menefee said. “There is more to this than meets the eye.”

He said he understands the frustration of residents, but they need to understand the March tornadoes were nothing like the April 27, 2011, tornadoes in size or in damage. The majority of those affected by this month’s storms, he said, also had adequate insurance that should help cover damage and debris removal expenses.

The county would have had to sustain $6.5 million in damages or had a large number of uninsured residents to have been eligible for federal funds. An EMA official told county commissioners at the previous meeting that damages following this month’s storms probably won’t even come close to half that amount.

Limestone, like most counties in the state, received a federal disaster declaration following last year’s spring tornado outbreak. The declaration allowed counties to file for Public Assistance funds from FEMA for debris cleanup and removal operations. The federal match for those operations was 90 percent for the first few weeks, while the county’s share was only 10 percent.

Menefee said the county, however, does not have any funds earmarked that would allow it to conduct debris removal operations. He reiterated a point made at the March 8 commission meeting that gasoline tax funds can be used only for road repairs and maintenance, not for storm cleanup.

“The county is not allowed to clean up anything on private property,” he said. “If we have a tree that falls in the road, yes, we can clean that up.”

He said the county contracts out its sanitation services, so relying on sanitation workers to handle debris removal operations would be costly. He advised residents who have the means to start work on cleanup operations to do so now.

Menefee, whose own home sustained heavy damage on April 27, said returning the county to normal after this month’s storms won’t happen overnight.

“Last year, after my house was hit, it may have been one or two months before any pickup was done, but I’ve got a stack of paperwork that says we can’t work on private property,” he said. “It’s a no-win situation, but there may be a decision by Monday.”

The commission meets at 10 a.m. Monday at the Clinton Street annex.


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