A contractor by early September will begin removing dead trees from along public road rights of way in the Butte Fire area, Calaveras County Public Works Director Jeff Crovitz reported Tuesday.
“My current estimate is that in three to four weeks we will have boots on the ground and trees hauled out of the fire area,” Crovitz told the board of supervisors.
The board approved a $9.78 million contract on Aug. 2 with Phillips and Jordan Inc., a national disaster remediation company headquartered in Knoxville, Tenn. The contract pays for hazardous tree removal, sorting, storage and traffic management for an estimated 8,300 dead or mortally injured trees associated with the Butte Fire and that pose threats to public roads. Trees will also be removed with owners’ consent from private land, as well as along public rights of way.
County officials are still seeking to have property owners sign forms granting permission for the work on private land, which means the first tree removal is likely to be only in the public rights of way.
Crovitz told the board that Phillips and Jordan currently has seven crews ready for work and plans to hire six more. He said a crew is made up of six to 10 people and includes logging truck drivers, fellers and traffic control workers. He said he will know by the next board meeting on Aug. 23 how many of the new hires are local residents.
He said the 13 crews will work simultaneously throughout the county, removing fire-killed trees from the public right of way and from private property.
“We really believe that we’re going to have the majority of the trees gone to debris management sites by the end of the year,” he said.
The first debris storage site is in Wallace and Crovitz said two more are being prepared. Staging and storage sites will also be established throughout the work area for logs that have merchantable timber for either milling or for chipping. A biomass facility in Lincoln has been contracted to take material that is suitable for fuel.
Meanwhile, more dead trees were identified along Mountain Ranch Road above Mountain Ranch two-and-a-half weeks ago, which increased the known totals to 1,922 trees in the public right of way and 1,624 on private property. “And marking continues,” he added.
Crovitz said arborist-contractor Tetra Tech, Inc. of Sacramento has hired 13 inspectors to work during the tree-removal process and four more will be hired, all of them locals.
Auditor-Controller Rebecca Callen told Aug. 2 said, “This is the largest federal contract this county has ever seen.” And said the total funding is closer to $12 million and when the $2 million contract awarded to Tetra Tech is included.
Callen presented the board with welcome information when she said an expected bill to the county for $610,941 would be paid in full by the California Officer of Emergency Services. “As long as we do the work and file the documentation on time and correctly, the state will pay for everything,” she said.
The majority of the funding – 75 percent – is provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.