Monitors in unmarked vehicles from the Federal Emergency Management Agency are secretly following the county’s waste hauler hired to collect debris from Hurricane Irma to ensure that what goes in the truck is allowed to be there, according to local officials, who said at the commission meeting Monday that they could jeopardize FEMA reimbursement payments if they don’t follow the rules.
“We don’t know where they are or who they are,” said Public Works Director Scott Herring. “And if they see us picking up debris we’re not supposed to pick up that could endanger our debris removal.”
According to Mr. Herring, FEMA allows the county to collect debris from single-family homes located on county maintained roadways.
“We don’t pick-up from apartment complexes, we don’t pick-up on private roads, we don’t pick-up from commercial ventures,” he said.
Still, the superintendent of a resort golf course and a property manager handling more than two dozen homeowner associations on the south end of Amelia Island stepped to the public speaker podium to ask commissioners for an exception—or at least an explanation they could bring back to the boss.
Barry Shuman, superintendent of the Golf Club of Amelia Island at the Ritz-Carlton, said the club isn’t a contractor.
“We’re a golf course,” he said. “We bring a lot of revenue to this county.”
Mr. Herring said a golf course is considered a commercial venture.
County Attorney Michael Mullin said FEMA determined that golf courses are excluded from collections because the agency assumes such businesses would have insurance for debris collection.
“Whether you do or not,” he said.
Mr. Mullin said FEMA is watching the county’s collection effort.
“The FEMA monitors who are out there are unannounced. They don’t have stickers on their trucks,” he said.
Mr. Shuman said the state Department of Transportation agreed to pick-up debris with FEMA. “And today, they were picking it up with the big old grapple,” he said.
“They may have reached an agreement with the state but they have not with local government,” said Mr. Mullin.
“What’s that got to do with the county?” said Mr. Shuman.
“The county is local government,” said Mr. Mullin. “But the county can’t get reimbursed if FEMA…”
“Yeah, but my question is….why is FEMA…paying the county?” said Mr. Shuman.
“There’s a program FEMA has to reimburse local governments beyond the local debris collection, so when you get a storm like (Irma), FEMA understands that, so they’ll reimburse local government for those types of debris pick-ups,” said Mr. Mullin.
“Yeah, but the county is not doing anything, for the most part,” he said.
Commission Chair Danny Leeper said he had not yet seen FDOT collect debris. But he would ask. (An FDOT spokesperson told the Independent by email Tuesday that the state had not yet started collecting debris in Nassau County.)
“I’m kind of getting a little conflicting information about this….there’s debris all up and down Amelia Parkway,” said Mr. Shuman.
“There’s debris all over the county,” said Mr. Leeper.
“I understand that,” said Mr. Shuman. “The golf club pays quite a bit of taxes to this county.”
“Unfortunately, that’s not a criteria to have the debris removed,” said Mr. Leeper.
Mr. Leeper said he would have Mr. Herring or County Manager Shanea Jones provide details in a follow-up conversation.
Property Manager Wynn Fendig followed Mr. Shuman to the podium.
“While Barry from the golf club has a point, I’m concerned about homeowners associations,” he said. “We greatly need the assistance of state and local governments to remove the large amounts of debris.”
Mr. Fendig said homeowner associations are not commercial businesses.
“We’re non-profit actually,” he said. “What would our classification be? And is there any grace that can be extended to the multitude of homes on the south end?”
Mr. Herring responded.
“If you have a homeowners association, it’s assumed you have the wherewithal to make provisions for that debris removal,” he said. “Since you’re already responsible for maintaining those roads within the homeowners association.”
“If we maintain the roads, then we pick it up,” said Mr. Leeper.
“And I would agree with that completely,” said Mr. Fendig, who wanted to know if the debris could be collected within the homeowners association and then dumped on the right-of-way on a nearby county road.
“Are you saying in your interpretation, that’s not allowable?” said Mr. Fendig.
Mr. Mullin said no.
“FEMA makes the assumption (or assumes the association has the) wherewithal to make those removals as a homeowners association or the individual homeowner to make accommodations with a debris hauler,” said Mr. Mullin.
“I appreciate that. Let me dive one step further. I must answer to 27 boards who are going to ask me, ‘What did you arrive at at the County Commission meeting?’” said Mr. Fendig.
“I understand you’re not going to come on private roads. But if the debris is moved at the association’s expense—because we’re paying a whole bunch of money for that—to a county road from the owner’s parcel?”
Mr. Mullin said that was not possible. He said FEMA monitors could reject reimbursement for the entire county if that happened.
“Then you have to go fight that through an administrative hearing in Washington and that could take two or three years,” said Mr. Mullin. “So you would jeopardize getting reimbursement.”
“Is there any consideration outside of FEMA?” said Mr. Fendig.
No, said Mr. Mullin.
“I know that frustrates people, because they pay taxes,” said Mr. Mullin.
“Thank you board for hearing my comments,” said Mr. Fendig. “There are many, many people waiting for the outcome on this communication.”
“We hear the frustration,” said Mr. Leeper. “These are federal and state guidelines that we have no control over.”