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Commissioners approves funding for Witt O'Brien

Updated: Jul 13, 2023

Newton County Commissioner's Court held session on Tuesday to address a number of items on the agenda including the agreement between Newton County and Witt O'Brien LLC's Debris Monitoring and Consulting for the HMGP DR-4266 Buyout Program.

During the court session, the need for additional funds to support Witt O'Brien LLC's monitoring services for property demolitions in the FEMA Buyout Program was discussed. When questioned about the request for additional funding, Witt O'Brien Representative Bird stated that Witt O'Brien was "at the mercy of the Sabine River Authority and their demolition scheduling."

The Sabine River Authority is the acting demolition contractor for these properties. FEMA demolition requirements state that there must be a third-party demolition monitoring service at each site.

Bird's initial request for was for an additional $20,000 to continue their monitoring services, which are expected to be completed within the next four weeks. After much discussion, Commissioner Gary Fomby asked the court to consider the amount of $30,000 in order to provide ample funds for the completing the project. All commissioners agreed to provide an additional $30,000 to Witt O'Brien in order to prevent any stoppage of work due to lack of funding from the county. The court voted unanimously.

Commissioner Leonard Powell noted that the approval of $30,000 would increase the overall cost to demo these properties at over $170,000.

Judge Ronnie Cochran stated to the court that FEMA recently informed him that county money paid to the Sabine River Authority would not be counted for reimbursement because "proper procurement procedures had not been followed." Cochran stated that his team is researching to find the appropriate contracts for FEMA that would show that proper procurement procedures were followed.

You might recall that multiple properties were contracted to be completely demolished as a part of the FEMA Buyout Program as of May 2020. According to Judge Ronnie Cochran, after finding out that the properties had not been demolished in the first quarter of 2023, he pursued an extension with FEMA and was informed that FEMA had already given the county four extensions concerning this and the project would close out in March 2023.

An additional point of concern is that a number of the properties have asbestos. This will require additional abatement contractors that specialize in the removal of asbestos to complete the county's obligation to FEMA.


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