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After Matthew: Count gives up on funds for private streets

By Jason Lesley
Georgetown County Administrator Sel Hemingway says workers have removed about a third of the storm debris from Hurricane Matthew — if estimates of the total were close to being accurate.

Hemingway said officials made a “wild guess” that 300,000 cubic yards of debris were left after the hurricane and subsequent flooding. The county’s contract haulers have picked up 100,000 cubic yards of broken trees and limbs from public roads and streets. The focal point so far has been the Waccamaw Neck, the towns of Pawleys Island and Andrews and city of Georgetown. “They haven’t been in rural parts of the county yet,” Hemingway said.

Those pickups will include appliances and building materials damaged by flood, as long as they are storm related, he said. “If they find a refrigerator in front of a house not in the flooded area, they are not going to pick it up,” he added.

The county has given up on seeking permission from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state Emergency Management Division to remove storm debris from private roads. “Frustrating,” was how Hemingway described the process. Communities with private roads, particularly on the Waccamaw Neck, removed storm debris immediately after the storm. Hemingway said the paperwork involved in getting permission to work those private roads would have taken months. “There wasn’t going to be any debris in these communities by the time we got approval,” he said. “They weren’t going to allow piles of trash to sit on their roadways and wait to see if we got approval. They were moving quickly. The bottom line was we never completed that process. Our observation was that there would be nothing to pick up.”

Renee Bafalis, a FEMA spokeswoman, said some communities in the state did get funding for private streets. “The onus is on them to make a strong case for an exception to be made,” she said.

Coastal South Carolina communities were holding up Louisiana as an example of a place that received FEMA waivers for debris removal from private roads. Flood waters there contained oil and waste from septic tanks, Hemingway said, and could be shown to be a health hazard. Georgetown County would have had to show that tree limbs downed during the storm were a health hazard.

In some private communities, property owners paid dues to cover debris removal, Bafalis said, then wanted government to pay for the work.

County residents are seeking more than $1 million in assistance from FEMA in recovering from the effects of Hurricane Matthew.

Bafalis said 1,441 county residents have filed applications seeking $1,002,561. Housing assistance is by far the largest request at $831,693. The remainder of the funding sought, $170,823, is considered “other needs assistance.”

“We encourage everyone to register,” said a FEMA registration manager at the Beck Center in Georgetown who would give only his first name, Jack. Residents who lost property to flooding last year and received FEMA assistance may be eligible for funding again. “It’s a different incident,” he said.

Once people registered, an inspector visited their property to assess the damage and its cause. FEMA will not pay for damages caused by a property owner’s own negligence through failure to take reasonable protective measures.

The largest expenditure for FEMA in the wake of Hurricane Matthew will be reimbursing the county for removal of debris.

In another matter related to hurricane recovery, Georgetown County Council approved paying Earthworks, an engineering company, $21,000 to inspect the Marsh Walk, Veterans Pier and Jettywalk in Murrells Inlet so they can be repaired.

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