Debris from Lee County tornadoes still sits months later

Multiple agencies have settled on an agreement to pick up the trash from state right of ways

Debris from Lee County tornadoes still sits months later

LEE COUNTY, Ala. (WSFA) - It has been more than two months since the March 3 tornadoes that devastated parts of Lee County.

The recovery process is ongoing, but for some residents, the debris on the sides of the road serves as an unwanted daily reminder of the pain that the community suffered.

The Lee County Commission, Alabama Dept. of Transportation, as well as state and federal Emergency Management Agencies have settled on an agreement to clear remaining debris from state right of ways.

The agreement allows for debris removal on Highways 51, 169 and 280.

Officials say some of their biggest concerns with the agreement were legal liabilities and losing eligibility for reimbursement from FEMA.

“The FEMA requirements are that we have to have the responsibility and the jurisdiction for what we are picking up," explained Lee County Engineer, Justin Hardee. “We just can’t go anywhere we want and start picking stuff up and apply it for FEMA reimbursement, so the first thing we had to do was communicate with FEMA to make sure we didn’t cross any bounds or any rules or regulations that could potentially jeopardize not only the reimbursement for the amount of debris that we’re talking about but potentially the reimbursement for the entire debris removal process.”

Hardee said that this partnership was created because everyone wants to find a way to help.

"All of the parties involved want to get the debris up for the citizens, help that community recover, not have that constant reminder out there on the rights of ways, but we've got to be very careful how we do it."

Careful because anything not done by the book could meaning losing federal reimbursement from FEMA, which is expected to be a pretty penny for the entire process.

“Which is going to exceed two-and-a-half million dollars for the total amount. Reimbursement would be 75 percent of that from FEMA if everything is documented properly.”

Alabama EMA will foot 12.5 percent and Lee County will cover the other 12.5 percent not covered by FEMA.

Beauregard residents are happy to see the debris go. One resident said the debris has been causing health issues for her family.

“I have seven kids. Five out of the seven have had respiratory problems, and only two of them have asthma,” explained Jennifer Norton. “We’ve had to take them back and forth to the doctor and they’ve missed a week of school because of their flare ups from the debris being left on the road.”

Norton said it’s also a daily reminder of one of the worst days of her life.

“It reminds you and survivors guilt kicks in very quickly when you constantly see it everyday. I constantly see it on the road, there is no picking up and moving on because you’re reminded of it.”

Debris removal will begin on Highway 51 as soon as the official paperwork is signed. Officials said it’s expected to take about 10 days to clean things up.

It’s up to residents to make sure the debris is pushed off of private property and to the right of way. A final round of debris cleanup for both state and county rights of way will begin June 17. Once that work is done, no more debris removal will be done by the county.

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