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Isaac cleanup delayed over billing

NATCHEZ — A billing discrepancy between a cleanup contractor and the Federal Emergency Management Agency could end up costing Adams County almost $900 a day more than officials had originally bargained for.

Following Tropical Storm Isaac, Adams County contracted with the Blain Companies to help with storm debris cleanup at a rate of $24.50 a cubic yard.

The problem, County Road Manager Robbie Dollar said, is that while Blain is basing its cubic yardage by the truckload, FEMA — which will reimburse the county for some funds expended during cleanup efforts — is saying the loads are approximately 10 cubic yards less than Blain.

The discrepancy between Blain’s billing and FEMA’s willingness to reimburse is approximately $220 per load more than the county was planning on paying, Dollar said.

The road manager said Blain has been hauling approximately four loads a day. That adds up to $880 in additional daily expenses.

Dollar said he has put a stop to the contracted cleanup until the discrepancy can be cleared up.

The truck Blain is using for the cleanup has a 34 cubic yard bed for hauling debris.

“The whole situation is (Blain) is saying this is 34-cubic yards (of debris), and FEMA is saying it is not solid matter,” County Administrator Joe Murray said.

FEMA has determined it will only account for 75 percent of a full load capacity on a limb truck that has no tailgate and 80 percent on a dump truck that can allow for some compaction, essentially in an attempt not to pay for space that is not being filled by limbs or other debris, Murray said.

FEMA will reimburse 75 percent of cleanup costs, but because the federal agency is only recognizing a certain amount of the cubic yardage being billed as legitimate, the overall percentage of the cleanup it reimburses could be lower.

Mark Godfrey with Blain said the company was basing its billing for the project based on the yardage of a full, loaded truck.

“We based our bid on getting a full load, and it is important that we get paid that to reimburse our costs,” he said.

Those costs include paying the month-long lease and insurance for the limb truck the company is using, Godfrey said.

What everything boils down to is whether or not the board is willing to pay Blain’s rate, Board President Darryl Grennell said.

“We are willing to sit down and talk about it some, but (the FEMA rate) is a 25 percent cut in pay,” Godfrey said.

The problem is that the contractor didn’t read the bid proposal based on how FEMA was going to calculate how to reimburse the county, Supervisor Mike Lazarus said.

“We need to look at the contact and see what it says, and if we need to pay (Blain) for what it is, we need to pay him and write a better contract next time,” Lazarus said.

The county has not previously hired an outside contractor for storm cleanup, Lazarus said.

A representative from the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency will be in the area today, and Murray said he would meet with the MEMA representative to see if some kind of consensus can be reached about the project.

The supervisors recessed the meeting without taking any official action on the matter.

After the meeting, Lazarus said he would suggest having the county lease the truck from Blain and hire the Blain employees part-time until the cleanup is complete.