In South Mississippi one thing is for sure. There will be another major hurricane. It is just a question of when, and the George County Board of Supervisors is considering making a change in how debris is cleaned up in the future. When Hurricane Katrina caused so much damage in 2005, FEMA recommended to the County that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers be hired to clean up the debris on public-owned property. That work began almost immediately and worked well. Last October’s Hurricane Zeta was different. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was not available. Instead, FEMA required bids be let and a commercial debris contractor selected. The County drafted bid specifications believed to meet all requirements by state and federal law and selected the lowest bidder. The lowest qualified bidder is also a requirement of the law. County considers new, annual debris removal contract The County was promptly sued by the next lowest bidder. “I am concerned what we are coming to in this country when you can try and do everything right and then still be sued on a technicality just because something did not go someone’s way,” board president Henry Cochran commented. Holliday Construction LLC of Poplarville was the next lowest bidder and has sued the county because the lowest bidder for debris clean-up, Custom Tree Care LLC, of Kansas City, Kansas, did not have a Mississippi Board of Contractors issued Certificate of Responsibility (contractor’s license). The MSBOC is the licensing authority for the construction industry in the state. Nowhere in the MSBOC’s extensive list of construction classifications listed on the MSBOC’s website is debris cleanup or removal mentioned. The County’s argument is debris removal is not “construction.” The suit is pending and may not be resolved by the Circuit Court judge until late April or into May. In the meantime, the County is under time deadlines and being pressured by FEMA and MDEQ to complete the storm debris removal by the end of June. Given the experience of the current lawsuit, the Board of Supervisors is considering an annual “standby” contract for storm debris removal in the future. Much like counties and cities make annual contracts for commodities such as gravel, asphalt, culverts and similar items used throughout the year, the County would hire a debris contractor on a standby basis to clean up after any major storms occurring during the year. According to Cochran, Jackson County and other municipalities throughout the state are already doing this. Regardless how the current court case is settled, the experience is unlikely to be repeated in the future.
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