Ice storm cleanup could prove costly
Cleaning up the city after the March 7 ice storm is going to be expensive.
City Manager Kelly Craver estimates there will be approximately 100,000 cubic yards of debris that has to be removed as a result of the ice storm that crippled the area. While that number is not expected to reach the 149,000 cubic yards of materials produced by the 2002 ice storm, the amount of money coming from the federal government will be much less than a decade ago.
At Monday night's city council meeting, Craver said Thomasville, like it did in 2002, qualified for FEMA funds to help pay for the massive cleanup effort. This time around, however, FEMA reimbursements only will be 80 percent.
“The city will have to absorb quite a bit of cost in removing these materials,” Craver said. “This is going to be a considerable investment for the city. City crews will continue to work in the interim process while we're trying to be approved for FEMA funding.”
Total expenses from the 2002 cleanup totaled approximately $700,000, but FEMA funds reimbursed the city for all of it. If the latest cleanup costs $500,000, the city will have to pay $100,000.
“We certainly didn't expect that in this budget year at all,” said Councilman Raleigh York. “We really don't know what the cost will be. We just hope it's not what it was when the 2002 storm came through. We'll have to front the money and wait to get our refund back, which may not be in this budget year.”
City crews already have exhausted 159 overtime hours removing almost 2,500 cubic yards of debris, Craver said. The cleanup effort is expected to take several months and citizens should continue to place debris by the street for removal.
Unlike the previous storm, York said the city is better prepared financially to handle the expenses associated with the cleanup effort. Council over the past several years has made an effort to build up the city's once depleted fund balance.
“As of right now, we do have the money to do that whereas a couple of years ago we didn't,” York said. “We have been fortunate enough to be able to put back some money and have a pretty decent fund balance so we can go ahead and get it paid for. This is a massive undertaking for the city. It's overwhelming. We're thankful we have the money to get it done. It sounds like before too long we'll have some crews in here getting the stuff up.
“If we get out for $500,000 it will cost us $100,000, which is a lot of money. But times are a little bit better for us than they have been and we're a little better prepared.”
Councilman Neal Grimes said in 2002 the city stockpiled the debris in several places before contracting a professional to grind it all up. In any event, the cleanup will take some time.
“The main thing is the normal services of electricity, phone and cable get back up,” said Grimes. “We'll certainly work as diligently as we can to get the debris cleared up. People just have to have patience. It's not going to happen overnight. It's going to be a drawn-out deal.”
York thinks the cleanup should be finished some time in May or early June.
Staff Writer Eliot Duke can be reached at 888-3578, or firstname.lastname@example.org.