By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – The army of debris removal trucks packed into the city months ago has diminished to a fraction compared to peak operation one week after the April 28 tornado.
As Saturday’s deadline nears for pickup in Tupelo of eligible materials, the presence of both trucks and debris dwindles.
Long gone are days of 22 trucks with untiring mechanical claws clearing neighborhoods like Sharon Hills, Bel Air, Joyner and Bristow Acres as well as the North Gloster business district and other residential areas impacted by the EF3 tornado.
Tupelo debris removal has averaged 5,447 cubic square yards daily. On Tuesday, seven trucks removed just 607 cubic square yards.
Debris pickup in unincorporated parts of Lee County is limited to materials at curbs prior to Monday. The county contracted with a private company for two months to remove roughly 64,000 cubic square feet of debris.
“If it’s in any area described as having no debris on Tuesday, it’s going to be a hard sell,” said Lee County Administrator Sean Thompson.
Debris placed along city right-of-ways for pickup after Saturday will remain for a while, until city crews have time.
Procrastinators also will require Tupelo taxpayers to foot the bill. New Yorkers, Texans and other federal taxpayers will stop reimbursements of up to 80 percent. State taxpayers also will stop covering the rest.
Debris ineligible for reimbursement includes construction materials, concrete slabs, sidewalks, patios, pools or driveways and debris from agricultural land, unimproved or undeveloped private property. Guidelines also require contractors hired to move debris to remove it from the property, not to the right-of-way.
Mayor Jason Shelton said he wants all debris approved for city reimbursement to disappear in two days.
Anyone concerned with debris placed in right-of-ways by Saturday should touch base with City Hall.
“The monitors have all gone up and down the streets and are trying to re-evaluate as much as possible,” Shelton said. “If there is a specific concern, they need to call the city.”
After the federal deadline passes for debris pickup, FEMA and the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency will remain to assist individuals who filed claims and help local government leaders follow proper procedures to ensure reimbursement of city money.
“We’ll be there as long as the city, counties or applicants need us there,” said Greg Flynn, MEMA spokesman. “It’ll really be up to them.”