Six months after Hurricane Matthew ravaged the area, Bulloch County and the city of Statesboro have reported expenses of more than $2 million from the response and cleanup.
Local officials expect the federal government to reimburse more than 80 percent of these expenses and the state a smaller portion. Numbers made public this week include $1,776,415 in labor and expense claims by Bulloch County and $482,694 by the city of Statesboro, for a total of $2,259,109. That doesn’t include any claims filed by Brooklet, Portal, Register or Georgia Southern University, and the county may have additional claims for road and ditch repairs and the final phases of cleanup.
The disaster response and cleanup were the area’s largest in more than a quarter century, attests Ted Wynn, who has been Bulloch County Emergency Management Agency director since 1992.
“It is the largest, to my knowledge, since I’ve been in this business with the county, you know, having well over $2 million for the city of Statesboro and the county,” Wynn said.
Two of the three people in Georgia who died from the storm lost their lives to falling trees in Bulloch County. The U.S. death toll rose to at least 43 after the storm caused extensive flooding in North Carolina.
Although no homes were known to have been destroyed in Bulloch County, the storm that roared through Oct. 7-8 damaged many roofs and toppled or delimbed thousands of trees. Debris-clogged ditches and more than six inches of rain contributed to damage on unpaved roads.
Statesboro officials recapped the city’s emergency response and debris removal efforts during a 15 minute-segment of Tuesday’s City Council meeting. That the city has now completed and submitted its expense claims to the Federal Emergency Management Agency was one reason for the update, but officials also talked about the work that went into the response and recovery.
“When a storm of that type and that magnitude hits our community, we really have a group of employees that go right into action,” Deputy City Manager Robert Cheshire said, “and what I’m here to tell you is these men and these women who prepare for the storm, they respond to the storm, and then they help in the recovery and the cleanup, the job that they do is phenomenal.”
He credited public safety, or in other words the fire and police departments, as well as utilities departments such as water and sewer and natural gas, and the public works and engineering department for “working seamlessly with other agencies.”
With Hurricane Matthew churning in the Atlantic, city staff joined in preparations beginning several days in advance, including meetings of multiple agencies at the county’s emergency operations center, Cheshire noted.
During the night the storm passed through and the next day and a half, city public safety personnel responded to 193 calls for service, he said. In the immediate aftermath, workers from the sewer department moved portable generators between pumping stations left without power, and even the city’s natural gas service dealt with storm damage after roots of toppling trees pulled some gas lines out of the ground, Cheshire said.
5,000 hours in 3 days
At least 158 Statesboro city employees were involved in “emergency protective measures,” during the storm and for two days after, Public Works and Engineering Director Jason Boyles reported. They logged more than 5,000 hours on the job.
Then the cleanup began, the much longer phase of the work but involving only 31 employees. For 10 weeks, with the exception of some days off at Thanksgiving, the debris removal crews from the sanitation and streets divisions worked 50 hours a week, he said.
The debris removal ended in mid-December.
In its claims to FEMA, the city has reported $129,412 in labor and equipment expenses for the Oct. 7-9 emergency protective measures plus $353,282 for labor, equipment and contract services from the 10-week cleanup.
From the combined $482,694 total in costs, the city has claimed $425,313 in expected reimbursement from FEMA and the state. The Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency administers the federal public assistant funding program within the state, and Georgia is reimbursing the local governments for a small share of the costs, while FEMA provides the bulk of the payments. Although Statesboro has completed and submitted its claims, they remain in a final inspection and accounting process. The application and inspection involve stacks of paperwork, Boyles told City Council.
“It’s a very onerous process, but it’s worth it, and if we can get some of these federal dollars back into our local community, then it’s a huge blessing for our community,” he said.
The city has now received its first “progress payment” of $115,953 through the state agency. The last of the money will be delivered only when the inspection and accounting process is completed, Boyles said.
Meanwhile, the Bulloch County government has completed some but not all of its claims, Wynn said. Claims can be made in four installments, including one for the emergency response, one for the first 30 days of cleanup and recovery, another for days 31-90, and another for days 91-180. The federal reimbursements start at 85 percent of costs for the first 30 days after the storm, then drop to 80 percent and again, after 90 days, to 75 percent.
City crews removed more than 14,000 cubic yards of vegetative debris, Boyles reported. Meanwhile, the county hauled about 20,000 cubic yards of debris, said Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch.
The city and county amassed separate piles at a county-owned site south of Statesboro and then paid a contractor to burn the debris. But the contract for debris disposal was a relatively small portion of the costs.
In fact, the county’s expense claims for road and ditch repairs far exceed those for debris removal, Couch said Friday.
“About two-thirds of the activities were to restore roads and bridges, particularly dirt roads, and the other third was debris removal,” he said.
With further claims still possible, he reported a “grand total of activities” by the county of $1,776,415. This includes a local share of $251,715, since the state and federal governments together are expected to reimburse the county for about 86 percent of the total.
Of the anticipated $1,542,700 reimbursement, $1,374,890 would be federal funds and $167,810 state funds.
Wynn expressed thanks to county’s transportation department and other departments for “excellent record keeping” supporting the claims for public disaster assistance.
“With FEMA if it’s not written down and documented it didn’t happen, so the people that kept the records certainly deserve a lot of the credit,” he said.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.