September 22, 2017 1:00 a.m.
“Given the diminishing availability of equipment and personnel for debris removal, the City must begin to consider alternative options for debris removal.”
After catching our breath last week following Hurricane Irma, the City is again transitioning to recovery operations. As mentioned last week, structural damage was limited. As can be seen by driving almost everywhere in the City, though, we’ve been left with significant tree debris.
The City awarded a debris removal contract to one vendor in mid-August and to a second vendor earlier this week. Debris removal by the first vendor commenced on Monday.
What is becoming apparent following Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, though, is that the availability of equipment and personnel has almost been exhausted. Excavators, cranes, trucks, and operators are in demand in Texas and in Florida. The sheer volume of debris in the Houston area and southern and western Florida dwarf the amount of debris that is piled along our streets.
The damaged areas have so much debris, whether simply vegetation or more substantial structural or household debris, that those communities’ demand for equipment is nearly insatiable. Vendors and subcontractors make themselves available to where the work and revenues are most plentiful. We simply don’t have that kind of work (or fees) in Fernandina Beach. Watching post-hurricane footage from Texas and other Florida communities easily illustrates what so fortunately missed us.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), at least in response to events in Texas, has recognized the strain on equipment and manpower shortage. In some cases, FEMA has apparently authorized contracts to be altered to increase the reimbursable costs for debris removal. This FEMA action, in many instances, contradicts FEMA’s insistence upon rigid compliance with purchasing and procurement policies to remain eligible for reimbursement.
Well, the City adhered to purchasing and procurement policies following Hurricane Matthew. We have had minimal response from FEMA with regard to actual reimbursement or even officially notifying the City that certain expenses are eligible for reimbursement (i.e., the Marina). With FEMA now forced to respond to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, both of which resulted in substantially more damage, how will the City’s Matthew efforts be affected?
The preliminary estimate by City staff is that the debris resulting from Hurricane Irma is less than that from Hurricane Matthew. According to City records, the debris removal costs associated with Hurricane Matthew were approximately $500,000. Again, although the appropriate documents have been submitted, no FEMA reimbursement has been received. Combined FEMA and State of Florida reimbursement are expected to be approximately ninety percent of the funds expended by the City.
Given the diminishing availability of equipment and personnel for debris removal, the City must begin to consider alternative options for debris removal.
An aspect to be considered is that the City itself does not have the appropriate equipment for large-scale debris removal. Even if the City did have equipment, the use of internal personnel would be problematic in that routine responsibilities and tasks would likely be neglected if personnel were re-directed to debris removal.
The City could continue with the contract in effect. Given that equipment and personnel are not enticed to Fernandina Beach due to lower volumes and revenues, it is unlikely that additional equipment and personnel will be available. FEMA officials may expand the contract provisions in Florida as it has done in Texas, enabling the City to offer more money to the current vendor. Without formal authorization, though, FEMA and State reimbursement may be jeopardized.
The City could re-start the process to solicit additional vendors. While this would be in line with FEMA’s direction to comply with procurement standards, it is also the most time-consuming: publishing, reviewing, and recommending proposals can take several weeks.
The City could also solicit costs directly from vendors, foregoing the formal proposal process. This process would likely be the quickest, but it also runs afoul of FEMA reimbursement requirements.
The City will likely solicit direct proposals from several vendors, primarily due to the desire to have debris cleared as soon as possible. Although not fully in compliance with FEMA procedures, it may be possible to make a hardship claim that equipment and resources were in short supply and that, in the interests of health, safety, and welfare, the City considered several proposals before selecting the most qualified. At least the debris will be cleared in an expeditious manner.
While the City pursues that course of action, please remember the need to properly place your debris for removal. Do not bag debris. Place the debris next to the road (within the right-of-way), not on the road. Do not mix storm debris with other garbage. If consolidating debris with others, please receive permission from the property owner of where the consolidated debris is placed.
City staff will continue the effort to coordinate debris removal as quickly as possible. For additional information regarding storm debris, please visit the City’s web site and Facebook page. Thank you for your patience.