Dave Rogers

For The Record

Orange County’s recently hired Emergency Management Coordinator told County Commissioners Tuesday that the Hurricane Harvey debris cleanup was “about 95 percent complete.”

Then Ralph Valenciano and the five members of the court spent about a half hour going back and forth about what to do about the remaining 5 percent.

They eventually agreed to extend the deadline to have debris on the curb to Jan. 14, with those homeowners responsible for calling the county’s hotline, 409-745-9809, and alerting the county to their situation.

The advertised deadline for homeowners to have their muck-out (demolition) debris piles in front of their flood-damaged home was Nov. 26.

“That’s correct, sir,” Valenciano said when Commissioner John Gothia said he’d had a taxpayer complain that the county’s debris hotline told him his demo debris would not be picked up because it wasn’t on the streetside by the Nov. 26 deadline.

“We encourage citizens if they have yet to do any demolition to give us a call,” Valenciano said.

“But at some point, commissioner, we have got to stop. I mean we’re 77 days in. I’m incredibly compassionate, but it’s also difficult to understand how 77 days into a debris mission we still have homes that have yet to be mucked out.”

Commissioners immediately listed several reasons why, many of them having to do with elderly or disabled residents, all with valid reasons.

“They pay taxes. They have to get their stuff picked up,” Gothia said.

Valenciano pointed out he was concerned that if federal guidelines weren’t followed, FEMA would deny the county reimbursement for the cleanup.

“We first had a projected finish of Dec. 18,” he said, adding that had been adjusted until Dec. 23. “We’re trying to project a [completion] date out there, but by having an unknown number of houses [still to be mucked out], we can’t do that.”

Valenciano said debris piles showing up recently weren’t limited to storm damage being hauled off but included piles of contractors’ reconstruction.

Everyone agreed debris generated by private contractors was excluded from reimbursement and contractors should be responsible for its haul-off.

The deadline to have debris on the curb was extended to Jan. 14. Residents should call the hotline number, 409-745-9809. Valenciano said the county would deal with the remaining storm debris on “a case-by-case basis.”

Michelle Turbiville reminded citizens FEMA has two disaster recovery centers open in Orange County, at the Expo Center on FM 1442; and at the Vidor Police Department. Although the deadline to register for FEMA is passed, representatives are available to help with the details of recovery, she said.

So far, Orange County haulers have picked up 354,449  cubic yards of debris, plus another 250,000 yards from the city of Orange. The County Landfill remains open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. all days except Sunday.