Jefferson County, Alabama, already standing on the brink of bankruptcy before last week’s devastating and deadly tornadoes, had a way to avoid finding the money to pay for the collection, removal, disposal and monitoring of millions of tons of storm debris.
The US Army Corps of Engineers, through its Advanced Contracting Initiative, has a standing, indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract with Phillips & Jordan, the Zephryllis, Florida based disaster debris management firm that handled the removal and disposal of the Twin Towers debris after 9/11. The Corps and Phillips & Jordan have worked together on many different events and have the business of debris management down to a science, employing a high-tech, wireless and GIS-based monitoring and management system. All counties in the state eligible for Public Assistance under the Presidential Disaster Declaration had access to that contract. Tuscaloosa County wisely accepted the federal assistance. Other counties are likely to follow suit.
Jefferson County? Nope.
With the same infinite wisdom county leaders showed in dragging the county to the brink of financial ruin, JeffCo has elected to enter into an emergency contract with Ceres Environmental Services, a Minnesota-based company that gained notoriety following Hurricane Katrina by swindling millions from workers in Louisiana. The company was also cited by Corps Internal Review staff on numerous occasions for failing to comply with basic terms of their contract. None of the prime contractors hired by the Corps after Katrina were angels, but Ceres’ citations piled up like storm debris.
FEMA also has numerous regulations on how debris cleanup operations are to be monitored. Debris has to be separated by type. Hazardous materials must be segregated and handled by specialized contractors. White goods must be processed to remove coolant and other hazardous materials they may contain.
Every single truckload of material has to be witnessed by a Quality Assurance representative of the entity hiring the debris contractor, and must sign off on the time, date, location and type of debris collected. Every truckload must then be witnessed arriving at an approved reduction or disposal site. Small storm events don’t take much effort to clean up in the aftermath. Last Wednesday’s storm was historic in both the damage caused and the debris generated. Ceres is going to descend on Jefferson County with an army of trucks, skid steer loaders, knucklebooms and track hoes.
If this operation doesn’t go strictly according the bookshelves of FEMA regulations, the 75% federal share of the cost isn’t reimbursed. How likely is the state to pick up a tab that could reach into the hundreds of millions?
Jefferson County is woefully unprepared for this effort, and if they don’t do it right, they will tumble off the precipice and fall right into the abyss of federal bankruptcy court.
NOTHING GOOD CAN COME OF THIS.