CAPE CARTERET — A Robbinsville company began work Wednesday to remove numerous stumps and trees that are leaning or have dead branches that endanger the public along roads and other town-owned property.

Town Manager Zach Steffey said Wednesday the work began on Bonita Street, and crews from Graham County Land Co. will move through town over the next couple of weeks or until the job is complete.

The final price will be determined by the amount of material removed and hauled away, but Graham’s bid was the lowest average per unit. Prices vary by the size of the tree or tree parts to be removed.

“They will place the debris along the roads for pickup at a later day,” Mr. Steffey said.

The company is spray painting its piles with orange markings, and the town has asked residents not to add debris to the piles.

That’s important because the town’s separate, annual spring yard debris pickup by the public works department is set to begin Monday.

Leaf debris piles for town pickup by contractor Bogue Sound Septic and Grading should not be placed in bags.

In order to be picked up, leaves and limbs must be in separate piles. Limbs must not be larger than 6 feet long or 6 inches in diameter. Whole trees will not be picked up by the town. Debris should not be placed near mailboxes or under low-hanging limbs and electrical lines.

As for the hazardous tree and limb abatement program, it’s been in the works since Hurricane Florence devastated the town in mid-September.

After the storm, residents and business owners piled mounds of vegetative and construction and demolition debris along the roads, and a contractor hired under the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster cleanup cost reimbursement program picked it up and hauled it away to approved sites in the county.

But all along, Mr. Steffey and commissioners planned to hire another contractor for the hazard abatement work, and sought bids early this year.

In early February, commissioners approved the contract with Graham County Land Co., which specializes in land-clearing, earthmoving, erosion control, storm drainage and debris management.

The board also approved a contract with DebrisTech LLC of Mississippi to monitor the abatement program, as required by FEMA to ensure there is no fraud  and to qualify for reimbursement.

Town public works staff  marked about 200 trees and branches they thought should be removed, according to Mr. Steffey.  The worst areas were Old Cape Carteret neighborhood, on the south side of Highway 24 and portions of the Star Hill subdivision on the northeast side of town.

Mr. Steffey said while the crews are here, if any residents see dangerous trees or branches they think should have been marked for removal, they should come by town hall on Dolphin Street or call at 252-393-8483.

Thursday, Mr. Steffey said he was pleased with the contractor’s work, so far.

“We’ve received positive feedback from residents who have come out of their homes to watch the hazardous tree and limb removal process,” he said after touring the work areas.

The town has already received more than $500,000 in FEMA reimbursement for cleanup and expects more, including reimbursement for the abatement program.

Also, the town received a $500,000 state grant in February to help pay operating costs for the next six months, freeing up general fund money to pay for the tree program and other needed work until more FEMA money arrives.

Among that needed work, Mr. Steffey said Wednesday, is road repairs. The town is moving forward on plans to repair roads damaged during the storm and by the heavy equipment used to pick up the initial debris piles.

FEMA, Mr. Steffey said, recently completed its third visit to look at the town streets.

“They will offer us a lump sum (to pay for the repairs) … and once we get that and accept it, we can select a contractor,” he said.

He anticipates road work will begin in the next month or so, and once finished, most streets will be back to pre-Florence condition, if not better.

“We appreciate (residents’) patience and think this work will be a benefit to the whole town,” he said.

One major project includes a permanent fix for a large sink hole on Star Hill Drive. The public works department patched it temporarily, but officials don’t know how long that will hold.

When all of the work has been done and bills have been paid to contractors, Mr. Steffey expects the town’s cleanup and repair costs to approach $1.5 million, which is about the same as the town’s entire budget for fiscal year 2018-19.

FEMA money that arives in in coming months will be used to rebuild the general fund in anticipation of a tight budget for the coming 2019-20 fiscal year, which begins Monday, July 1.

Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email Brad@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.

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