Months after storm, who will pay for debris removal in gated neighborhoods still up in the air

Months after storm, who will pay for debris removal in gated neighborhoods still up in the air

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - In the weeks following Hurricane Florence, crews working on behalf of the City of Wilmington cleared more than 1.3 million cubic yards of debris from streets and other areas around the city. It’s nearly enough debris to fill the Houston Astrodome.

Most of that was from public rights of way, either on a public street or put on a public curb, and the cost of clearing it fits easily within FEMA’s guidelines for reimbursement.

However, 38,467 cubic yards of debris came from four prominent gated communities, costing the city more than $306,000.

Who will pay for that remains to be seen.

Private property debris removal (PPDR) is something FEMA has not historically reimbursed, said city spokesperson Malissa Talbert. Whenever an event led to the need to collect debris from private neighborhoods, she said, the city was prepared to eat the cost.

In recent years, however, Talbert said some of that has changed, and FEMA has begun reimbursing some kinds of PPDR.

According to a guidance sheet published by FEMA, in order for PPDR to be approved, a public agency such as the City of Wilmington has to prove four things: That the applicant has the legal authority to remove the debris, that the removal is in the public interest, that codes and guidelines were followed for relocating the debris, and the applicant has proper documentation of the location, type, scope and effort of the debris removal work.

A FEMA spokesperson said Monday no formal request has been received by the agency for reimbursement for Wilmington’s PPDR.

However, documents obtained by WECT show the city is working to get that reimbursement, but has received feedback from FEMA representatives that the application did not match the formatting and content requirements.

One of the requirements FEMA has an issue with is whether or not the removal was “in the public interest."

A prime example: the 35,155 cubic yards of debris removed from Landfall subdivision.

Debris in Landfall was cleared by the subdivision’s crews and taken to a central location on the private property where the city then picked it up and moved it to the city’s debris management sites.

Talbert said this has been the agreement between the city and Landfall for several years.

But FEMA’s guidelines for “in the public interest” are narrow, and say the debris must have been a direct threat to health and safety, such as a tree blocking a street and preventing emergency crews from reaching someone in distress.

Talbert said the city is going to do everything it can to get reimbursed for the PPDR at Landfall and three other gated communities, but if not, the city will absorb the cost along with that of debris removal from commercial property and multi-family housing.

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