Bradley debris removal continues despite state 'cease' letter

Bradley debris removal continues despite state 'cease' letter

June 11th, 2011 by Randall Higgins in News

After being off-loaded from big trucks, giant shovelfuls of vegetative debris from the April 27 tornadoes and storms drop into one of two fire pits in Cleveland by workers from Unified Recovery Group.

Photo by Randall Higgins/Times Free Press.

CLEVELAND, Tenn.-A state board has asked the company doing tornado debris cleanup here to stop.

But Unified Recovery Group, based in Baton Rouge, La., and Bradley County officials say the work continued anyway on Friday.

The county has announced that a second pass through routes already cleaned up once will begin June 20.

The Board for Licensing Contractors, a subsidiary of the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance, issued the June 8 letter after it met in Memphis.

The letter has been circulated to Bradley County commissioners but not the county mayor's office, according to Mayor D. Gary Davis.

Two local contractors complained that the work went to an out-of-state company. The complaint is that Unified does not have a Tennessee contractor's license.

Davis said Friday neither his office nor the county Emergency Management Agency has received any communications about the letter, but they understand the letter was sent.

"We have been assured by Unified Recovery Group, the company contracted to remove the storm-related debris, that work will continue," Davis said. "Our goal is for the massive cleanup to go forward and do all we can to assist Bradley County residents affected by the April 27 storms."

Davis' administrative assistant, Dan Howell, said Friday that Unified has a Tennessee business license and does not need a contractor's license for the work.

Eleven companies, including some local firms, responded to a formal request for proposals for the cleanup work, he said. It was not a bid request for a contract, he said.

Howell said the only local firm that met criteria was too expensive. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will reimburse only the lowest offer, he said.

In its letter, the Board for Licensing Contractors said that "based on the scope of services in the Request For Proposals for Debris Removal Services issued by Bradley County and the City of Cleveland, the work bid under this contract falls within the definition of contracting" and violates state law.

The letter cites Tennessee Code Annotated 62-6-103(a)(1) and has "cease and desist" in bold-face type.

Licensing board Executive Director Carolyn Lazenby wrote in the letter that the penalty for violation is $5,000 and each day on noncompliance is a separate violation.

When the work was awarded to Unified, one elected official voted no - City Councilman David May. He noted that local companies had done volunteer cleanup work.

"It's almost like our local people are good enough to work for free but not to be paid, and that's the exact reason why I voted no," May said at a previous council meeting.

May was not involved with the contractors licensing board letter.