With the Federal Emergency Management Agency agreeing to pay for 75 percent of the cleanup costs of the Paradise “Camp Fire” destruction, California officials say they want FEMA to pay even more than that.
In December, FEMA reported it was paying $180 million in grants and loans to assist in recovery, for three California counties… not the $1 billion California now claims it will cost just for the Paradise area fire.
Cleanup cost estimates of nearly 14,000 fire-destroyed homes and hundreds of businesses inn Paradise, CA is soaring to more than $1 billion.
But nearly half of the property owners in and around Paradise have not given the government permission to enter their properties to do the work, jeopardizing the state’s control of the cleanup, and control of the FEMA reimbursement.
Butte County officials are threatening residents with government action if they don’t comply with the government cleanup rules. “This isn’t optional,” Butte County Economic and Community Development Manager Casey Hatcher said. “If they don’t sign the right of entry form, or sign up for the alternative form, the town or county will come through and use our nuisance abatement process.”
“Hatcher said county officials have not determined when they would start declaring properties as nuisances.”
A few weeks ago several victims of the Paradise, CA “Camp Fire” posted on Facebook that they weren’t being allowed back on their properties to do their own post-fire cleanup of their homes. The State of California was taking over and either ordering the homeowners to hire state-approved clean up companies, or to agree to allow the state to do it for “free.”
“Saying they feel an urgency to act fast, California officials this week will launch the main phase of wildfire debris removal in Butte County, scene of November’s devastating Camp Fire,” GovTech.com reported January 29.
Problems in Paradise
This week, five of six companies that lost out on bids for the $1 billion in state contracts have filed notice with state officials that they will protest, the Sacramento Bee reported. “An official with one of those firms, Florida-based Ashbritt Environmental, accused the state of giving a competitor an unfair advantage that will cause debris cleanup costs to soar by the end of the year-long effort.”
Making this cleanup of concern to some, Tetra Tech Inc., the firm hired by state officials to test soils on burned land, is the parent company of Tetra Tech EC, which has been sued by the U.S. Department of Justice for allegedly faking soil samples during the cleanup at Hunters Point naval shipyard in San Francisco. Two low-level field workers of Tetra Tech EC pleaded guilty to falsifying records and were sentenced to eight months in prison, the DOJ reported. However, it is important to note that Tetra Tech Inc. and Tetra Tech EC are two separate legal and operational entities with different executives. Tetra Tech Inc. is not part of the DOJ lawsuit and is not named in their Hunters Point complaint.
Frustrated residents say they wish there was no state government involvement complicating matters. “People and local jurisdictions would have figured out how to clean up their lots in a relatively safe and efficient manner,” said one commenter who asked not to be named. “With CalOES we now have toxins leached into the ground because of needless delays, exorbitant costs to the taxpayer, an emergent and serious housing crisis, and fire survivors now dying of heart attack and stroke because of the needless stress that CalOES has been injecting into the local community. Money and control is the great motivator for this California state government scheme.”
“The Chief Administrative Officer of Butte County told the the Butte County Supervisors that FEMA said cleanup funds would be in jeopardy if Butte County issued permits for residents to move onto their property in trailers or RVs,” he said. “FEMA told me they have not issued any such statement nor do they hold that position.”
The issue appears to be with CalOES, who he said, “has created this mess with their imaginary cleanup scheme, and has bullied local jurisdictions into arbitrary rule,” because CalOES was afraid of losing federal funds so they threatened to sue Butte County for accommodating citizens through local ordinance.