Mayor was right: This is a mess!
On Friday, Sept. 16, the day after Hurricane Ivan passed, a meeting was held in Flomaton.
Representatives of our county government, the municipalities within our county, and law enforcement were present, as were Federal Emergency Management Agency officials, and state and local EMA officers.
You will recall that all of us were distraught, frustrated, and starved for information. Every person present had a beef with the government's response in Escambia County and each one voiced it.
East Brewton Mayor Terry Clark was angry because no one in the state would listen the day before the storm when he told them he needed a generator or East Brewton residents would be mighty thirsty when the power went out. He was told, "It's not an emergency yet."
By that time, Clark had already arranged for a generator, having been told by the governor that the state would reimburse hiim for it.
Sheriff Grover Smith was crying for help with traffic and patrols.
Every other official there needed help with something. Great assurances were made, but answers were somewhat vague and help was not immediately forthcoming.
Tired and frustrated, Atmore Mayor Howard Shell erupted.
At ensuing meetings, local government officials were assured that FEMA would remove storm debris from the curbside, from private property if needed, from commercial operations. They would take care of public property, like parks, campuses, the public golf course, and cemeteries.
For 90 days, our leaders have operated on the belief that this would happen, that utility right-of-ways would be cleared, that things would be returned to whole.
The rules have changed a few times along the way. Tuesday they changed again when current head of local FEMA operations Richard Cruse told a gathering of government officials that the Corps of Engineers, contracted with FEMA, shouldn't, couldn't, wouldn't remove debris from public property unless it was piled on the right-of-way; that they wouldn't go on private property; that they would not pick up storm debris that had construction debris or other trash mixed in.
Cruse said FEMA doesn't do this, period, and that there must have been some misunderstanding.
If one or two people thought this, one might label this a misunderstanding. But every public official was in agreement that they had been told these things would happen.
In FEMA's defense, they have been quite overloaded this year. And anyone who has ever attempted to read government regulations could understand how one could be confused by them.
But someone needs to be held accountable for having led local leaders astray.
Brewton Mayor Ted Jennings said he had already told his department heads not to count on the government cleaning up the public property areas for which the city is responsible.
But the issues are countless. From missed opportunities to have volunteers help with the clean-up of some of these areas, to the average citizen who has gotten storm-related debris piled just off the right-of-way after being told it would be moved, the new rules leave us with lots of new problems.
Clark, by the way, still didn't have the money for his generator on Tuesday.
It appears Shell got it right all those weeks ago. "This is a (expletive deleted) mess."
Michele Gerlach is the publisher of The Brewton Standard. She can be reached at email@example.com or 251.867.4876.