The County Commission held another emergency meeting Friday morning to approve a formal declaration of a “disaster area” in the county. Among other things, the resolution authorizes the county to contract for debris removal and other services without a formal bid process, and to work on private property where public safety, health or convenience is affected. The declaration will also allow the county to document damage and removal, and receive reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
As of press time Friday, Moody, Pell City, Riverside and Ragland had passed similar resolutions under similar circumstances. Officials in Odenville were planning to pass the resolution as soon as they could convene a meeting.
“We want everybody to know we’re doing the absolute best we can to cover the situation,” Commissioner Paul Manning said. “This commission really wants to work to make sure we’re doing the right thing for the community.”
The commission’s first priority, according to Chairman Stan Batemon, will be in its unincorporated areas, specifically the storm-ravaged Shoal Creek Valley area. The county also plans to help coordinate efforts within the municipalities, as well.
“We have a lot of people hurting in a lot of different places,” Batemon said. “We want to work with our municipalities without feeling like we’re taking control of everything.”
Batemon and Manning also attended a meeting at The Ark in Riverside, with a collection of the county’s mayors, state Rep. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, state Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston and U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Vestavia.
Bachus, a representative of Alabama’s 6th District, had been touring the storm damage with President Barack Obama. He left The Ark to take a tour of the St. Clair County damage, along with Batemon, Manning and other county officials.
“It’s just total devastation in several communities,” Bachus said. “I’d not heard anything about Shoal Creek Valley until today, and it’s just terrible damage.
“I met with the Birmingham media this morning, and I told them they need to get over here. All the talk is about Tuscaloosa, and it’s bad over there, but the most fatalities in one place is at Shoal Creek. We need to think about everybody.”
A letter from St. Clair County Sheriff Terry Surles officially declares the search-and-rescue portion of the operation concluded. That means the county is now in “cleanup and recovery” mode, according to Batemon.
Within that, the county is searching for places to keep debris, for companies that can help grind it up, for others who will contract for debris removal and for monitors who can document everything for federal reimbursement. County officials said they believe the emergency nature of the situation will allow it to be done without a formal bid process.
“We’re working with FEMA now,” Bachus said. “We hope this will allow the county to expedite the cleanup and not have to go through too much paperwork.”
Commissioners encouraged city officials to work with the county in that process, as well.
“It might be best to store (the debris) and let the grinder come to it,” Commissioner Jeff Brown said.
Batemon said he will sign any contract that comes to his desk from county engineer Dan Dahlke or attorney Bill Weathington.
“By the time they get to me, after they’ve gone through (the commission) and Dan and Bill, I’m going to sign it,” he said.
Individual assistance will also be available through FEMA. Batemon said the local EMA plans to set up two stations — in Moody and Shoal Creek Valley — to aid uninsured citizens in filling out forms for individual assistance.
“People can go there and there will be representatives from FEMA and state EMA,” he said. “They’ll basically fill out the forms for (citizens).”
Until the stations are set up, citizens can call 1-800-621-3362.
McClendon also raised the issue of missed school days, something he said the Legislature will have to address soon.
“If we don’t make any adjustment, some of our children could be going to school all summer,” he said. “We’ve got kids with no electricity, and no water. I’m sure the BOE doesn’t have money to run the air conditioning in July.”
Bachus was complimentary of the state’s citizens, for helping one another in the aftermath of the disaster.
“I talked to people in churches, or giving assistance to their neighbors,” he said. “That’s really the first safety net any of us has: your neighbors and your church and your community. They always do more for us than the government can.”
Contact Will Heath at firstname.lastname@example.org.