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Crew Scurries to Meet FEMA Funding Deadline

Wed March 15, 2006 - Southeast Edition
Jeff Cronin



Amid the rumbling of bulldozers and the whispers of remembrance of what the Gulf Coast once was, one can almost hear the tick-tick-tick of a deadline approach.

The work can continue afterward, but the full financial reimbursement from FEMA was to stop March 15.

Government officials in the towns and states devastated by last year’s hurricane season were hoping at press time that the feds would extend the deadline and continue picking up 100 percent of the bill, but clean-up crews couldn’t rely on a hope. State and local governments will be responsible for 10 percent if that deadline isn’t extended.

They pressed on as if their machinery would disappear on the Ides of March.

As the deadline approached, the workforce of Necaise Bros. in Gulfport, MS, which started the job in mid-December, grew by five people and the crew’s hours were extended. The changes occurred in late February.

At the start of the project, they were working from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., said Bobby Weaver, Harrison County sand beach director. The end of the day was extended to 10 p.m.

To assist in the task, Necaise brought in Ozzie’s Pipeline Padder of Phoenix, AZ, as a primary subcontractor.

Greg Charney, manager of business development and sales of Ozzie’s, said it originally brought in seven of its sand screening machines, but as the deadline approached, two more were added.

Along with the machines, Ozzie’s is represented by nine operators, a superintendent, a mechanic and an operator foreman. There are 14 crew members from Necaise.

The crew, on average has completed 2,500 ft. of beach per day since it brought on two additional machines. The beach, on average, is 200 to 300 ft. wide.

Before Ozzie’s got involved in the project, Charney said the contract called for 12 stationary sand screening plants, each of which would be fed by three wheel loaders and an excavator.

He said that would have resulted in massive piles of sand and massive piles of debris.

“That would have been a logistical nightmare,” Charney said.

Instead, Ozzie’s self-propelled machines create windrows of sand and dump the unwanted debris directly into the bucket of a Cat wheel loader. The wheel loader operators dump their loads every 15 to 20 minutes.

The screening machines work through an 11.5 ft. wide swath of sand that is 12 in. deep as they pass along the beach. It screens out anything larger than three-eighth in.

James Necaise, vice president, said two Cat D6 bulldozers are sent out prior to the screening machines to move the larger debris out of the way.

The operation is supported by excavators, which are used to load up Necaise’s fleet of Mack and Peterbilt trucks that haul the material approximately 10 miles to the dump site.

Beach clean-up is becoming a larger part of Ozzie’s work, especially since pipeline work is usually completed in the third and fourth quarter of the year.

Charney’s even looking outside the country to grow this part of the operation.

“Hurricanes and tsunamis destroy beaches all over the world,” he said.

Charney expected to complete the job right at or just after the March 15 deadline.

Weaver said the material screened from the sand will be taken to one of six or eight dump sites. While it mostly consists of wood, glass and segments of steel structures, he said there is so much other material that recycling any of it is too much of a burden.

Necaise, based in Gulfport, MS, was awarded a $6.5-million contract to clean up Harrison County’s 26 mi. of beachfront and haul away the material at $12 per cubic yard. It started the task of clearing debris from the 727 acres of sand in December.

Necaise’s work is only one in a series of phases to bring the county’s beaches back to the state they were before the storm.

Phase one, completed by Hemphill Construction in Florence, MS, removed the large debris from the beach. Weaver said the firm’s crew used root rakes on dozers to remove approximately 33,000 cu. yds. of material from October to January.

Weaver said the size of some of the debris — which included pieces of telephone poles — would have been impossible to screen.

Once Necaise’s work is completed, Holden Earthmoving in Biloxi, MS, will come in to remove the concrete structures, including ramps, a pedestrian overpass and a pavilion slab, from the sand. Weaver expects the crews will need to bring in hammer attachments to break up the concrete before it is removed.

The final phase of the work will be completed by Harrison County workers. They will knock down the windrows of sand created by the screening equipment and flatten the sand with beach cleaners, which are pulled behind four-wheel drive tractors.

But the work won’t even be completed at that point.

Under the watch of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, work will begin in two to three months to replace sand lost to the storm. Weaver said the sand will be brought in from borrow areas in the sound.

“We still have an ample amount of sand out there,” he said.

A preliminary survey of the beachfront has led officials to believe 800,000 cu. yds. of sand was lost.

Officials also are gearing up for debris clean-up in Mississippi’s waters, too.

U.S. Coast Guard officials hope to have contractors in the water by mid-April.

Because the project is so massive, they first are tackling three sites: Jourdan River Shores in Hancock County, Henderson Point near the Pass Christian Isles in Harrison County, and a residential channel near Enger and St. Mary streets in Jackson County.

“We’re focused primarily on residential canals,” said Capt. Edwin Stanton, deputy sector commander in the Coast Guard’s Mobile office. “They’re areas that pose the most immediate threat to the population.”

Primarily a utility contractor prior, Necaise said his crews started to return to what they do best in the past couple of months.

Necaise said he has six pipe crews working in Gulfport, Biloxi and Pass Christian. Another debris crew is working in Long Beach.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.) CEG