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Winter storm: Disaster status arrives as tallies costs

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Georgetown County could be in line for reimbursement for some of the costs of cleaning up after winter storm Pax.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency announced Wednesday that federal disaster aid has been made available to South Carolina to supplement recovery costs in areas affected by last month’s storm. President Obama’s action makes federal funding available to state and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities in 21 counties, including Georgetown.

“That’s good news,” said County Council Member Jerry Oakley.

Sel Hemingway, Georgetown County administrator, told members of the council this week cleanup costs could reach $400,000. He said the cost of removing storm debris from county residents’ yards, reimbursement rates and the price received from the mulched debris remain in flux.

“This is having a tremendous impact,” Hemingway said during preliminary budget talks Tuesday. “What we will be reimbursed will determine our exposure and costs.” Hemingway said the county is documenting overtime pay for fire departments as part of its reimbursement claim.

County emergency services manager Sam Hodge said the federal reimbursement process will take time. The county has done proper assessment verification and is waiting on FEMA to set up meetings to work out the split between the state and the counties in the affected area. Hodge said FEMA funds would be for government assistance only and individuals need not apply for loss reimbursement.

The big blue trucks gathering storm debris have been working the Waccamaw Neck this week, hauling broken limbs to the county landfill for grinding into mulch. That product is being taken to International Paper where it is being used for fuel in the company boilers. Hemingway was not optimistic about getting much of a price in return. “This is a free enterprise market,” he said. “Supply is high, and demand limited. We don’t know what it will do to the price of fuel chips.”

About 47,000 cubic yards and 950 loads of storm-related debris have been collected, according to Jackie Broach, spokeswoman for the county. She estimated that about 15,000 cubic yards of debris remain. Right-of-way collection is estimated to be about 80 percent complete on the Waccamaw Neck and halfway done in the northwestern areas of Georgetown County.

Sunday will be the final day for commercial haulers and contractors to drop off storm debris at convenience centers. After that, they will be required to take debris to the landfill on Highway 51. Fees at the landfill will continue to be waived for storm-related debris. Residents will be able to continue taking yard debris to recycling centers, but the normal limit of one load per day will be back in place.

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