How Columbia Co. handles debris pickup

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News 12 at 6 o' clock/ Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014


COLUMBIA COUNTY, GA. (WRDW) -- When it comes to emergency management, pre-planning is critical. The recent ice storm certainly put that theory to the test.

While a lot of counties in the area have been managing the chaos pretty well, Columbia County gets the gold star when it comes to preparedness.

Judy Gill lives in Columbia County, and she's seen the response firsthand. "You see the piles and they're everywhere. Every 50-100 yards. Everywhere you go," she says.

Crews have been busy working to clear all of those piles. But, while a lot of counties have been figuring out who to hire and how to get all of the debris out of the area, Columbia county has been sitting on cruise control.

Back in 2009, Pam Tucker and the Columbia County EMA team went ahead and put together a master debris plan, complete with worst case scenarios like CAT 4 hurricanes. It was the first debris management plan like it in the state.

"FEMA approved our plan quickly and then GEMA asked if they could share my plan with the rest of the state to help others, and of course, I said yes," Tucker explained.

So, when the ice storm rolled through and dropped several tons of branches and trees on the area, the contractor was already bidded out and on standby.

"It hit on Wednesday. Friday afternoon, I was able to say, we want you to proceed," Tucker says.

"They came by our house this past Tuesday, and they did a fabulous job. They picked up all the debris. They even raked where it had been," Gill said.

Richmond county did not have a contract already in place, so they borrowed a contract with the details already hammered out.

"We had to piggy back a contract from Chatham County. It had gone through a public bid process," said Steve Cassel with the Richmond County Engineering Department.

In the long run, not having a pre-approved plan in place will cost taxpayers more.

"By having the plan, Columbia County's match to FEMA will only be 12.5 percent and it'll be 15 percent for the other counties," Tucker said.

And, while a difference of 2.5 percent may not sound like big bucks, when you're talking about 2.5 percent of millions of dollars, it adds up fas. Which is why Richmond County is taking this ice storm as a learning experience.

"We're going to set up a pre-positioned contract like that. Likely, there should have been one in place, but that's in the past," Cassell said.

Richmond county is hoping to have all of the debris piles removed by the end of March, just in time for Masters traffic to roll in.

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