2018-11-07 / Front Page

Debris Pickup Resumes from Hurricane Michael


GADOT crew from north Georgia help clear the debris. GADOT crew from north Georgia help clear the debris. According to City Manager Cory Thomas, Miller County and the City of Colquitt agreed to utilize a contract with the US Army Corps of Engineers to remove all debris from the city and county. This was made possible through agreements with FEMA and GEMA. The Governor of Georgia agreed to provide all local match required. This would be done at $0 cost to local taxpayers. The City nor County will be required to match the federal portion of funds, nor front the costs for the project as well.

However, shortly after the initiation of the agreement with the Corps of Engineers, there were several private contractors that filed protests against the process due to the fact that they were not given the opportunity to provide the services. This stopped the process completely. On Thursday of last week, the governor agreed to deploy GA DOT crews from North Georgia to begin hauling debris throughout Southwest Georgia. This was done on Friday and Saturday. On Saturday, the Army Corps of Engineers resumed full operation of debris removal in Miller County. The entire process should take approximately six months to complete all debris removal.

The purpose of this message is to tell you what we know and what we think is going to happen.

1. How did we get in this situation? Following the devastation of Hurricane Michael, it was the immediate duty of local government to clear roadways and to assist other agencies in re- storing vital services. This process went very smoothly as debris was quickly removed, and roads became passable within a few days of the storm. The city and the county then devoted resources to helping our utility provider partners in gaining access to infrastructure and in guaranteeing that power crews could work in as safe an environment as possible. Despite initial dire warnings that power could be out for weeks or even months, the city saw almost full restoration of power service by Tuesday, October 16, and county residents were largely back on-line within two weeks of the storm.

This moved us to the next phase of the storm recovery which is the removal of storm-related debris. In most disaster recovery events, local governments are responsible for coordinating and managing clean-up efforts. The normal process is for the local government to advertise for independent contractors to do the work, to then open bids and award contracts to qualified contractors. This process requires that the local governments be responsible for paying the contractors from available government resources and then to seek reimbursement for the cost of this work from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Normally, this reimbursement covers 75% of the cost of performing the work, and the local government is responsible for the remaining 25%.

Following Hurricane Michael, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) quickly realized that the amount of debris to be removed and the cost of this removal was going to be overwhelming to the local governments of Southwest Georgia and the state moved quickly to coordinate a state led solution. Working with FEMA, the state negotiated a contract with the United States Army Corps of Engineers to manage the debris removal in all impacted counties. This arrangement called for the state to cover the 25% local match amount normally required from local governments and essentially insured that the cost of debris removal would not overwhelm the budgets of the cities and counties of Southwest Georgia.

The Corps of Engineers manages disaster relief projects literally all around the world, so having them as the state’s partner seemed to be a good fit. The Corps also maintains a network of pre-qualified debris removal contractors who can be called upon in emergency situations. Unfortunately, this is where our project came off the rails. The Corps elected to award the contract for the Georgia Mission to Ceres Environmental Services over two other prequalified contractors. This started a process where the competing contractors have now filed at least four protests alleging that the Corps incorrectly applied federal procurement procedures. Under federal law, these protests must be resolved before any work can begin, and the task of resolving the protests is not controlled by the Corps of Engineers but instead by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The protests that have been filed to date are listed below:

2. What is being done to resolve the impasse? Everything that can possibly be done is being done. The city and county governments have been in nearly constant contact with state and federal partners. We have had daily contact with representatives of Governor Deal’s office, GEMA has worked to keep all local governments updated on the situation, and Senator Dean Burke, Representative Jay Powell and Representative Darlene Taylor have been working diligently on our behalf. U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, U.S. Senator David Purdue and U.S. Representative Sanford Bishop have all made contact with the Corps of Engineers Headquarters on our behalf and have also reached out to the GAO and to the White House for assistance. The problem is that federal law requires that the GAO evaluate each protest and prohibits work from being done while a protest is unresolved.

The local governments have been reluctant to pull out of the state brokered agreement because we don’t have adequate equipment to complete the debris removal on our own (the city has four trucks) and we don’t have the millions of dollars of needed funds to hire a contractor to do the work even with the promise that we will eventually be reimbursed by FEMA. However, the local governments did today start the process of hiring contractors to complete this work outside of the state agreement. It will be seven days before we can open bids for this work, and it is our hope that this will be resolved before that time expires. If the situation is not resolved, we are committed to moving ahead with the hiring of private contractors. This will be an extreme burden on the city and county budgets, but we feel that we must act if the state and federal government agreement is not resolved.

3. When might we see some progress? We have no way of knowing when the bid protest process will be resolved. Governor Deal did today instruct GEMA to begin deploying state resources to impacted counties to begin debris removal. Initially, this will mean that Georgia Department of Transportation employees will be in the community to start the process of removing debris. The first group of state employees began arriving last Friday, and they should remain until the Corps of Engineers procurement protests have been resolved.

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