By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
City of Atmore officials, faced with the daunting task of removing the tons of vegetative debris piled up along city streets and sidewalks in the wake of Hurricane Sally, learned this week that most of the costly burden will be borne by federal and state agencies.
“This is great news,” said Mayor Jim Staff upon learning that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will foot three-fourths of the cleanup bill. “FEMA is going to pay 75 percent of the cost, and I understand that the state will pay 12.5 percent.”
Calvin Grace, director of the city’s streets and sanitation department, agreed that the news is welcome.
“It is good news; it will be a great help,” he said. “It would probably have taken us three, four, five months to get it, because we’ve still got to pick up the other stuff, like old furniture, carpet, other things that were damaged.”
Instead, Crowder Gulf, a Theodore-based disaster recovery company, should be able to remove most of the vegetative storm debris in a fraction of that time, freeing up municipal workers to handle ordinary solid waste pickup.
“City crews won’t have to deal with it,” the mayor said of the mass of trunks and limbs that litter the city from hundreds of trees toppled by the storm. “I think the folks from Crowder Gulf said it would take them about four weeks. Our crews are already behind, just doing the ordinary stuff. We have the best people of any town this size working for us, and now they can concentrate on doing their regular job.”
Staff said the private company would “start in the middle of the city and work outward in all four directions.” They will work each street once, returning to spots where the debris is such that it can’t all be picked up at one time.
Grace and Staff both warned residents that limbs, tree parts and other vegetative materials must be kept separate from household garbage or trash.
“I’ve already seen some piles with garbage — food bags, things like that — in them,” he said. “FEMA has already told us they won’t pick it up if it’s mixed up like that.”
The mayor pointed out that piles of trees, bushes and other such debris must be close to the street, noting that “FEMA will not get off the pavement” to remove such items. Under FEMA guidelines, no leaves in bags will be picked up by Crowder Gulf crews.
Conversely, city workers will pick up bagged leaves but will not pick up any limbs or other vegetative matter during the storm cleanup.
“We’re not going to be picking up any vegetation,” Grace said. “If it’s leaves and it’s in bags or out by the street, we’ll pick that up, but no limbs or other stuff like that. Right now, we’re trying to get everything that’s on city rights-of-way and ditches out to the street.”
Residents who have not yet moved debris to street-side should do so as soon as possible, as Crowder Gulf is expected to begin its Atmore operation in early October. A more definitive timeline is to be announced later this week.
Grace said the burden of removing storm debris will fall back on city crews, slowing down the regular collection of trash and household garbage, if residents don’t cooperate by piling their limbs and such by the curb.
“I don’t know what to do about people who’ve still got a lot of stuff in their yard and haven’t gotten it to the street,” he said. “That creates another problem. (Crowder Gulf) will be gone, and people will still have stuff in their yard, so we’ll eventually have to haul it.”