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Oaks fell over the parking lot at Chapel Creek Villas when the wind turned to the west.

Hurricane Matthew: Initial estimate puts property damage above $14M

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Georgetown County has requested equal treatment for all residents regarding removal of debris from roadsides following Hurricane Matthew.

County Administrator Sel Hemingway told County Council on Wednesday he has requested a waiver from the Federal Emergency Management Agency so the county can seek reimbursement funds for the cost of debris removal in gated communities and on private roads with multiple homes. It is eligible for funds because the president declared a major disaster.

FEMA’s rules grant reimbursement for debris removal from public roads, and a similar request was denied following the October 2015 floods.

“It is of vital interest to Georgetown County to begin immediate efforts to manage the threats and hazards this debris poses to public safety and the well-being of our citizens,” Hemingway said. The removal of storm debris has been the No. 1 topic of phone calls to the county following the storm.

Hemingway said he has changed his mind that vegetation removal will be far and away the biggest problem. A preliminary damage assessment covered about 70 percent of the Waccamaw Neck by Wednesday and estimated structural damage on private property to be over $14 million. That includes damage to property in the town of Pawleys Island, which was estimated at $4.5 million. Damage to county facilities on Waccamaw Neck is being estimated at $450,000. Hemingway said those numbers are leading him to believe there will be more construction and demolition debris than he first thought.

That debris, along with tree limbs, will be removed by contractors hired by the state Department of Transportation under the direction of Georgetown County. Hemingway said he has heard positive feedback from other counties that used DOT for debris removal after the 2013 ice storm and last year’s flood. Georgetown County used a private firm and filed for FEMA reimbursement itself.

DOT’s process includes filing for federal reimbursement, and its team includes a former FEMA employee. “That’s a huge burden lifted,” Hemingway said.

Horry County was the first to request gated communities and private roads be included in FEMA reimbursement for debris removal. Louisiana was granted an exception in August, but FEMA operates on a case-by-case basis. “This would be a huge win,” Hemingway said, “but the ones yelling the loudest need to hear that a response is not happening tomorrow. The key is to exhibit a little patience in the process and maybe some of this debris has to sit along the curb longer than you would like it.”

Hemingway said the county is faced with both a recovery and cleanup processes with some residents facing another devastating flood as storm waters from North Carolina make their way to Winyah Bay down the Pee Dee, Black and Waccamaw rivers.

Hemingway said it would not be wise to begin debris removal too soon. “Some people are still waiting on the river to drop; some to return to homes and get sand scraped off their roads. We want to make sure we don’t have to make more trips than necessary.”

County Council Member Steve Goggans said some people are more impatient than others. Private communities have asked about moving debris to public roads for removal. The tourist areas are interested in a quick cleanup, he said.

They can take all debris to the county landfill on Highway 51 or to the Pawleys Island recycling center on Grate Avenue. Tipping fees for private citizens have been waived at the landfill.

Hemingway said he would encourage private citizens to gather storm debris from their yards and transport it to county facilities. That will reduce the costs of storm cleanup for the county ultimately, he said. Cleanup will not occur as quickly as many people would like, he emphasized.

“We can’t move into a full recovery state,” he said. “Certain parts of our county expect recovery service; other parts need power or are in flooding with their roads under water. We’ve got desperate situations and issues to deal with and will continue to respond to initial flooding before we can move into full recovery mode.”

The county passed an emergency ordinance that went into effect immediately Wednesday. It allows a 50 percent reduction in building permit fees for storm related repair and allows temporary shelters, such as campers and trailers, to be placed beside houses during construction. The emergency ordinance is for 60 days, giving the council time to consider a permanent ordinance.

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