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After Matthew: Rice optimistic FEMA will waive restriction on debris removal

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Without the prospect of funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Georgetown County won’t pick up debris left by Hurricane Matthew along private streets. Those include gated communities as well as those without gates that maintain their own roads.

But Administrator Sel Hemingway told area property owners this week the county will ignore the restriction on collecting debris hauled from private streets to public rights of way. “We are picking it up, and that’s all I’m going to say,” Hemingway told the Waccamaw Neck Council of Property Owners Associations.

The county’s response to the hurricane drew favorable comments from the association members, who serve on POAs in their neighborhoods. “Each time a storm comes, you get better and better,” one member told Hemingway.

But the issue of debris removal has rankled since the ice storm of 2015. “I’ve been reminded that folks in gated communities pay taxes,” Hemingway said. “We all pay federal taxes.”

FEMA reimburses the county up to 75 percent for the cost of debris removal. The county asked the agency to consider reimbursements for private streets. “We get different answers,” Hemingway said. “But they’re consistent in saying no private roads.”

He told the association he doesn’t agree with the policy. “I would like to change it, but I would really like to change it at the federal level,” Hemingway said.

U.S. 7th District Rep. Tom Rice is optimistic FEMA will waive the rule. “They waived that rule of late in other states,” he said at a campaign stop in Pawleys Island. “I suspect they’ll give us some relief.”

Georgetown County isn’t the only place he’s heard that request. “It’s really a big deal for local government,” Rice said.

The county needs to budget for storm debris the same way communities in the North budget for snow removal, Bob Hesterfer, a POA council board member, said. He is also president of the POA at Ricefields, which has private streets but no gate. Hesterfer said the county shouldn’t base its decisions on whether FEMA will provide reimbursement.

Frank D’Amato, president of the Tradition Club POA, which also has private, ungated streets, said the county’s decision to wait for the federal government to declare a disaster meant his association had to haul debris twice. It paid to haul it from the streets to a site that it leased until the county opened a collection site at the Pawleys Island area recycling center. “You need to get the recycling places open on Day 1,” he said, adding that the same thing happened after the ice storm.

“We’ll certainly look at that,” Hemingway said, but he added that without a FEMA declaration of an emergency it’s unlikely the county would do any roadside collection or collection at the recycling centers.

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