BRUNSWICK COUNTY — Counties are shelling out millions to pick up millions of cubic yards of debris left behind from Hurricane Florence. It’s been two months since the storm, and some communities still have no clear idea when they’ll get debris removal relief.
For Pender County residents living off private roads – those not maintained by the state – no debris removal plan appears to be in sight. But in Brunswick County, Commissioners voted to take care of its private communities from the beginning of recovery discussions.
RELATED: Pender County commissioners block plan to remove debris on private, unpaved roads
Picking up debris appears to be the costliest recovery activity municipalities and counties have engaged in; for example, about $20 million of Wilmington’s $22 million allocated for Hurricane Florence relief is dedicated toward debris removal and monitoring.
Certain recovery activities including debris removal are eligible for 75 percent federal reimbursement if it removes an immediate health and safety threat to the public.
In Brunswick County, Commissioners agreed to cover debris removal costs for 26 of its unincorporated communities, acknowledging no “immediate” safety risk, thereby taking on the task without the guarantee of federal reimbursement.
The cost of vegetative debris removal in the 26 communities was estimated at $400,000 on Oct. 15, when Brunswick County Commissioners voted to remove a previously discussed $1 million cap for spending in private communities. Last week, the county approved a resolution outlining this decision, citing a threat to health and safety — albeit not an “immediate” threat. The resolution will be included in the county’s application for reimbursement.
In total, Brunswick County will spend an estimated $8 million on debris removal and monitoring, sourced from its contingency — or emergency — fund.
New Hanover County agreed to service its private community members from the start; crews were permitted to pick up debris on private roads as long as a truck could enter and exit, and if not, would pick up material at the end of the nearest entry-point.
Pender County’s problem
Unlike Brunswick and New Hanover County’s welcoming approach to private communities, Pender County has offered its private residents no debris relief.
Though the county is funding debris pickup in incorporated areas, including Surf City and Topsail Beach, the county has also faced soaring costs to address storm damage – especially mold- to its schools. These costs have effectively left many of Pender’s unincorporated residents with no remedy for the debris piled up on properties across the county.
With its general fund — or savings account — balance at less than one million, Pender County Commissioners voted 3-2 to deny a resolution that would have guaranteed debris removal on private roads. The county — with current debris costs at $8 million — would have to raise taxes to cover these unprecedented costs, Commissioner David Piepmeyer said at a meeting last week.
Commissioners have been advised to halt all storm-related spending on the advice of the county’s manager and finance director.
County-by-county comparison of debris pick-up plans:
|Population||First started||Projected end date||Includes private Roads?||Includes incorporated municipalities?||Includes construction debris?|
|New Hanover||227,198||Sept. 24||After Thanksgiving||Yes||No||Yes|
Author’s note: Though Brunswick County entered into a multi-jurisdictional contract offered to multiple municipalities, the county is not funding debris pickup in incorporated areas.
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