BY DAVID FISHER
DRESDEN (May 17) — During a called meeting of the Dresden City Board on Tuesday, May 17, board members hired a debris monitoring contractor to document the amount of building materials hauled to a dumpsite. The board also fired the city’s commercial building inspector. However, the majority of the meeting was spent attempting to get clarification regarding debris pickup and discussing possible litigation from property owners.
After hearing a presentation by Debris Tech specialist Tyler Johnson, the board awarded Debris Tech, based in Picayune, Mississippi, with the contract to monitor the amount of material hauled to an approved dumpsite, by debris removal contractor, Quality Contractor Services, which was hired by the city to handle the cleanup. The job is estimated to take approximately two months to complete.
Following a discussion concerning problems with the city’s building code inspector, David Kelly, the board voted to terminate Kelly and hire an interim codes inspector until a permanent replacement can be found. Kelly was fired because he works in Memphis and is unavailable to inspect Dresden construction projects when needed, which hampers rebuilding of commercial structures at a time when the city is trying to recover from the destruction caused by the December 10, 2021, tornado.
Additionally, many of the citizens of Dresden are understandably concerned over what progress is being made regarding the removal of debris from area homes and businesses, in the aftermath of the December 10, 2021, tornado that left a path of devastation in its wake.
There is also a great deal of anxiety and confusion over what portion of the cleanup FEMA will pay for and what the property owners will be responsible for.
Dresden Mayor Jeff Washburn stated, in order to be eligible for FEMA funding, the city must follow specific guidelines. However, he explained FEMA has given mixed signals concerning the proper methodology for the removal of storm debris.
“When the tornado struck, we didn’t have any guidebooks or anything to tell us what to do at that time,” Mayor Washburn said. “We’re not even sure to this day exactly what the concrete rule is regarding debris removal, due to the number of different answers to the same question we received from FEMA.” The mayor noted people in other areas have said debris removal was covered by FEMA.
According to the latest information available, the debris from buildings that were scattered on the ground and in the streets is eligible for FEMA funds to cover the cost of removal to a dumpsite. However, the cost of debris removal from damaged structures left standing that had to be torn down is the responsibility of the property owner. These costs are to be paid by the insurance companies.
However, the mayor noted, “We haven’t received definite clarification from FEMA about what they’re going to pay for and what they are not. We know there were some houses demolished and hauled to the Jones Street storage site located adjacent to the water tower. One of the contractors is liable for hauling away some of that waste, but they kept up with the number of truckloads and are responsible for hauling it away. That will reduce the amount of debris at the site, but there is still some question about the houses that were still standing and later demolished.”
Mayor Washburn mentioned that Tyler Johnson representing Debris Tech, which is the city’s debris removal monitor, said he had never heard of FEMA not covering the disposal costs, when a volunteer knocked a house down and pushed it to the road.
“We want to protect the assets of the city,” Washburn said. “Of course, we want to be fair with every property owner as much as we can. But we’ve got to look at the cost of what the cleanup is going to be.”
According to Dresden City Recorder Jennifer Branscum, the churches and some of the houses that were dumped at the water tower site were insured and some of the residential structures were not. Dresden’s Methodist Church and Cumberland Presbyterian Church paid to have their debris hauled off. The contractor they used took the debris to the staging site on Jones Street with the understanding that it would not be charged to the city. The contractor kept up with the number of loads and will pay for the removal of that material to an authorized dumpsite.
The contractors that tore down houses are responsible for keeping up with how many loads they hauled to the temporary staging area and for moving those loads to a landfill.
Once all of the contractors remove their debris from the staging area, FEMA will pay for transporting the remaining approved debris to a landfill.
Mayor Washburn said he anticipates debris pickup will get underway beginning Monday, May 23, if the weather cooperates.
“It’ll probably be two or three weeks for the debris removal contractor to make the first pass,” the mayor said. “Hopefully, by the first of July, we’ll be ready to make a second pass through town, and if necessary, maybe even a third pass, if time allows.”
Washburn said of the disaster recovery volunteers, “It’s just amazing what a great job they did.”
However it should be noted, with all of the confusion following the storm, some of the volunteers helping to clear the streets of debris may have inadvertently hauled a mixture of debris composed of material from tornado damage with debris from demolished buildings, and dumped it at the Jones Street staging area.
Speaking on behalf of the Integrity Group, which the city hired to serve as the liaison for the city and FEMA, Bob Stinebaugh said, “Under normal circumstances, FEMA pays 75 percent, and the state and city splits the remaining costs, with each paying 12.5 percent each. However, due to the extent of the damage, FEMA has agreed to pay 90 percent for the disaster relief in Dresden, leaving the state and city to pay 5 percent each.
Stinebaugh said he spoke with local officials representing Weakley County and the City of Dresden on Wednesday and Thursday and informed them that FEMA is not going to be able to go in and double check what debris belongs to the city at its staging areas. So, it may be that debris that cannot be identified as coming from demolished structures, which the property owner’s insurance is responsible for, may be eligible for FEMA reimbursement to pay for debris removal.
“We’re hopeful we’ll see a big change in the landscape of Dresden in the next week,” Mayor Washburn said.