If Stephens County had been hit by a tornado in early March, most of the debris would have already been cleared away by country work crews using county equipment.

But last winter’s wildfires are a different story.

Two months to the day after a wildfire destroyed 50 homes south of Duncan, county officials are still struggling to define their role in the cleanup effort, and remain hamstrung due to federal and state regulations.

District 3 Commissioner Dee Bowen said that after discussions with FEMA officials last week, he feels like the county “is still at square one.”

FEMA has offered to fund 75 percent of the cleanup costs, up to $100,000, with the remaining 25 percent split between the state and county.

But county crews cannot get onto private land to do any of the labor, and FEMA will not hire a private contractor to do the work.

And the county could be “stuck” for the entire 25 percent, said Stephens County Emergency Management Director Gary Ball, because the state is out of money.

“We can bill it to the state, but they already owe on 161 claims going back to the year 2000,” said Ball.

At Monday’s regular meeting of the Stephens County commissioners, Stan Rice, ASCOG’s environmental services director, and Perry Brinegar, ASCOG’s director of public safety and analysis, stepped forward to offer help.

“The way I see it, you have two major issues,” stated Rice. “First, (by state law) you aren’t allowed to work on private land, and second, you need money to pay for the cleanup.

“Our responsibility is to try and find you some money. We think you can use REAP (Rural Economic Action Plan) money. We know you’re looking at some hard decisions.”

Ball said another problem with the cleanup effort was solved last week, when he met with three FEMA officials and District Attorney Gene Christian.

He said that as long as the health department certifies the fire ruins as a health hazard, county crews can get a right of entry form to work on the property and send the bill to FEMA.

Ball also said that the he had received a letter from the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality specifying which landfill could be used for the debris, and that 8-ton dumpsters could be hauled to each site for a cost of $350.

Ball said that out of the 50 homes, several had been covered by insurance and the sites were already cleared away. Ball said probably 20 were left that needed to be cleaned up.

He suggested setting up a meeting between FEMA, Christian and the commissioners next week, which the council asked him to do.

In other business, the commissioners:

n Denied a request by Sheriff’s Deputy Rodney Richards for payment of approximately $25,000 in attorney’s fees for the defense attorney at his perjury trial last month;

n Acknowledged a report by Stephens County Fairgrounds Manager Danny Lowrance about the costs of new gates, and his request to hire a new employee as soon as possible because of the rodeo scheduled for this weekend;

n Approved a request from District 3’s Bowen to remove trees along old U.S. Highway 81 to facilitate drainage.

The Stephens County commissioners meet at 9:30 a.m. each Monday in the conference room of the commissioners office at the Stephens County Courthouse.

Recommended for you