TUPELO – Public officials agree rootballs and tree stumps decorating Tupelo and Lee County residential areas after the tornado seven weeks ago will be removed.
They disagree, however, on who will pay for it.
Dozens of conversations among local, state and federal officials have led to increased stress levels and aggravation after federal emergency officials informed local governments to pay costs of removing the heavy tree chunks left after the April 28 tornado.
Tupelo and Lee County officials directed residents and volunteers to bring debris to public right-of-ways for removal and expected state and federal taxpayers to foot the bill.
After all, Gov. Phil Bryant signed into law that state government would absorb costs for debris removal not covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Federal manuals provided to local officials showed debris qualifying for financial reimbursement includes materials resulting from a major disaster and placed in the right-of-way.
Tupelo Public Works supervisor David Knight said FEMA changed the rules this week.
“FEMA’s denying picking them up right now,” he said Wednesday. “That’s not what we were originally told.”
Interpretation of how “debris” is defined will determine who gets to the bill for removing tons of unwanted tree remains.
“The stumps and the rootballs are a different animal when talking about debris removal,” said Greg Flynn, spokesman for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.
He said property owners who paid private contractors to remove the heavy vegetative materials should ensure the service provider removes the debris from the property.
“That contractor has to take it away,” he said. “They can’t just dump it at the right-of-way.”
But local officials believe FEMA said to put them in the right-of-way.
Flynn disagrees with placement of rootballs and stumps in right-of-ways, saying the huge masses could become public hazards.
Either way, officials expect to reach a definitive answer today on which level of government will cover the expense.
“Whether it’s federal, state or local tax money, we want to make sure it’s fair,” Flynn said.