Local Southwick contractors taken off job

SOUTHWICK – The Select Board heard complaints from local contractors who were terminated from tree and brush removal Monday night and said their hands are tied.
The contractors helped clear the streets following the Oct. 29 snowstorm.  However, their services had to be terminated once phase two of cleanup began.
Southwick’s Chief Administrative Officer Karl Stinehart said the town was able to hire local workers immediately following the storm, which he said is considered phase one of cleanup, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) guidelines.
In order to receive reimbursement from FEMA, Southwick must follow its guidelines, which state that once phase two, or removal of debris, begins, the town must use a FEMA approved contractor.
“During phase one, we can use anybody under emergency circumstances,” Stinehart said.
The town requested a waiver from state procurement laws in order to proceed with the contractors already in place. Stinehart said it has not been approved.
Select Board Chairman Fred Arnold said the town made sure when it signed contracts with FEMA to use its approved contractor – Ashbritt – that language was included stating the town can terminate the contract if approved to use local workers.
Resident and business owner Kerry Granfield said Monday that it was a slap in the face to the people who have been working to clear town streets.
“If it wasn’t for us, you wouldn’t have open roads and the work would have been completely done,” said Granfield.
“We agree,” said Selectman Arthur Pinell. “Your concerns are the same as ours. Do you think we wanted to shut you off? No, never.”
Granfield said Monday night it would take local workers just three days to haul away the remaining trees in town. He also said for $20,000 the town could buy a burner large enough to burn the brush in town.
Arnold said the fire marshal has denied requests to burn brush.
“We are working on that with our legislators to get around that,” he added. “We are on board with you, we’re fighting for you.”
Stinehart said this is an example of needing “the right tools in the toolbox.”
In Westfield, Mayor Daniel M. Knapik opted to keep cleanup a local function.
“We had a FEMA meeting to go over the ground rules (for reimbursement),” Knapik said.
“During the first 70 hours after a (presidential) declaration of emergency, communities get 75 percent reimbursement with very little documentation,” Knapik said. “However, after that 70 hour limit, you need extensive documentation required by FEMA.”
Knapik said that the city, in addition to hiring a national tree service company, would also have to hire a firm to monitor the activity of the national tree service, to determine what percentage of the debris removal work qualified for reimbursement under the FEMA guidelines. The national contractor would also have to weigh each truck loaded with debris, as part of that reporting process.
Stinehart commended the local workers who stepped up right away.
“They were super,” he said. “The board is very appreciative.”
Southwick was hit hard by the snowstorm. However, Stinehart said the town has been lucky to stay out of the path of several recent natural disasters.
“Southwick has been largely untouched by the other weather events,” Stinehart said, citing an ice storm and the June hurricane. “We are fortunate.”

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