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Oklahoma storms: Costs for debris removal are mounting

Oklahoma City has been billed for more than $1.1 million, and that figure will rise substantially. Trucks are to begin the second pass through tornado-damaged OKC neighborhoods on Monday.
by William Crum Modified: July 15, 2013 at 10:00 pm •  Published: July 15, 2013

Contractors hauling away debris left behind by May's destructive weather have billed Oklahoma City more than $1.1 million so far.

The bill will rise substantially when work is complete and landfill fees and other costs are figured.

By comparison, the city paid contractors about $7.5 million to haul away debris after a 2007 ice storm; charges to dump it ran an additional $2 million.

About 80 percent of the estimated 95,000 tons of debris from the May 20 tornado has been trucked to landfills from neighborhoods south of SW 134 and west of Santa Fe Avenue.

A contractor has removed about half the debris from the May 31 wind and rain storms that affected south Oklahoma City, generally north of SW 134.

That cleanup has gone more slowly than expected, prompting numerous complaints from residents.

Additional contractors are expected to be on the job July 22 — nearly two months after the storm — to complete that work.

Bills for the May 31 cleanup have been coming in weekly, while two contractors hauling away tornado debris are billing by the month. Their next bills should come in about a week.

Starting Saturday, city crews also began work to catch up on hauling away debris, concentrating on southeast Oklahoma City. They're expected to be out the next two weekends.

Jim Lewellyn, who manages debris cleanup for the city, said the city expects 12,000 to 15,000 tons of debris — mostly downed trees and toppled fences — from the May 31 storm to be collected across 120 square miles of the city.

Lewellyn said several other storms since 2001 have produced similarly widespread damage:

• In May 2001, a windstorm caused damage across about 180 square miles, mostly on the west side. Debris ran to 6,500 tons; hauling costs and landfill fees ran $629,000.

• In 2002, an ice storm caused damage across about 300 square miles. Debris ran to 36,000 tons; hauling costs and landfill fees exceeded $1.9 million.

• In 2007, an ice storm left about 100,000 tons of debris spread across about 500 square miles. Hauling costs and landfill fees ran just shy of $9.4 million.

Contractors had hauled about 78,000 tons of debris from tornado-damaged neighborhoods by the end of last week, Lewellyn said.

The first pass through the neighborhoods is over and the second pass was to start Monday. It's expected that the second pass will be complete in about 10 days, Lewellyn said.

Federal and state governments will reimburse the city for much of the cost.

Reimbursement is calculated on a sliding scale, with nearly 100 percent reimbursement of many costs during the first 30 days, Lewellyn said.

The reimbursement rate for the second 30 days is 94.5 percent, he said. Wednesday marks the end of the second 30-day cleanup period.

Lewellyn said Oklahoma City has close to 100 homes where owners have done nothing to begin removing debris.

City staffers were trying to contact owners to learn their intentions.

The city eventually will remove destroyed homes that are abandoned by their owners.

by William Crum
OU and Norman High School graduate, formerly worked as a reporter and editor for the Associated Press, the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, and the Norman Transcript. Married, two children, lives in Norman.
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