The East Baton Rouge Metro Council agreed Wednesday to spend up to $1.6 million in hopes of finishing debris pickup from Hurricane Barry over the next two weeks.
Council members said they have been slammed with complaints from people waiting for more than a month for tree limbs and other storm remnants throughout the parish to be cleared from their yards. The contract the council agreed to on Wednesday with DRC Emergency Services LLC estimates that Hurricane Barry, despite its relatively timid rains and winds, left 100,000 cubic yards of debris to be collected.
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DRC will be paid based on the number of cubic yards they haul. City-parish Environmental Services Director Rick Speer said the company has already picked up more than 20,000 cubic yards. Without the additional help, he said, it would take months to finish clearing debris.
But council members said storm debris is not being picked up anywhere near as quickly as it should be.
“Personally, I’ve had a stack that hasn’t been picked up in two weeks at my own house and it’s not the size of a Volkswagen yet but it could get there,” said Councilwoman Barbara Freiberg.
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The amount of debris left in Hurricane Barry’s wake is minuscule compared to that left by the floods that inundated Baton Rouge in 2016. The floods resulted in 2 million cubic yards of debris, and the city-parish cut DRC a check totaling more than $30 million for that pickup job. FEMA reimbursed 90 percent of that cost.
Speer said it’s possible FEMA could reimburse the new DRC contract as well.
Councilwoman Tara Wicker recalled at the meeting how monitors signed off to confirm that houses were not missed during debris pickup in 2016. She asked why that process has not worked with Hurricane Barry debris clearing. Thompson Consulting Services, which monitored the debris pickup in 2016, is included in the contract the council funded on Wednesday.
“It’s inexcusable for us to have to wait for people to call us to tell us the trash hasn’t been picked up,” Wicker said.
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Though the city-parish has now activated a contract to pick up storm debris, not every surrounding area has done the same. Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wilson, whose district includes Central, said Central has not activated a similar contract yet, which has led to delays and frustration with debris pickup there. He asked for city-parish officials to meet with those from Central to figure out the best path forward.
In other news, council members agreed to delay voting for a month on a plan to hash out how much money St. George would owe in pension and retirement costs if voters agree to create the city. Officials representing both the retirement system and St. George asked for more time to work on the plan.
Advocate Staff Writer Terry L. Jones contributed to this report.