I. TITLE: Debris Removal from Private Property
II. DATE: July 18, 2007
III. PURPOSE: This policy describes the criteria that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will use to evaluate the eligibility of debris removal work from private property under the Public Assistance Program.
IV. SCOPE AND AUDIENCE: The policy is applicable to all major disasters and emergencies declared on or after the date of publication of this policy. It is intended for FEMA personnel involved in the administration of the Public Assistance Program.
V. AUTHORITY: Sections 403(a)(3)(A), 407, and 502 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (Stafford Act), 42 U.S.C. 5170b, 42 U.S.C. 5173, 42 U.S.C. 5192, and 44 CFR 206.224.
A. Sections 403(a)(3)(A) and 407 of the Stafford Act, 42 U.S.C. 5170b and 5173, respectively, provide FEMA authority to fund debris removal from private property provided that the State or local government arranges an unconditional authorization for removal of the debris, and agrees to indemnify the Federal government against any claim arising from the removal.
B. The regulations implementing Sections 403 and 407 of the Stafford Act at 44 CFR 206.224 establish the requirement that debris removal be in the “public interest" in order to be eligible for reimbursement. “Public interest" is defined as being necessary to:
1. eliminate immediate threats to life, public health, and safety; or
2. eliminate immediate threats of significant damage to improved public or private property; or
3. ensure economic recovery of the affected community to the benefit of the community-at-large.
C. Generally, debris removal from private property following a disaster is the responsibility of the property owner. However, large-scale disasters may deposit enormous quantities of debris on private property over a large area resulting in widespread immediate threats to the public-at-large. In these cases, the State or local government may need to enter private property to remove debris to: eliminate immediate threats to life, public health, and safety; eliminate immediate threats of significant damage to improved property; or ensure economic recovery of the affected community to the benefit of the community-at-large. In these situations, debris removal from private property may be considered to be in the public interest and thus may be eligible for reimbursement under the Public Assistance Program (44 CFR 206.224).
1. Disaster-generated debris: Any material, including trees, branches, personal property and building material on public or private property that is directly deposited by the disaster.
2. Improved property: Any structure, facility, or equipment that was built, constructed, or manufactured. Examples include houses, sheds, car ports, pools, and gazebos. Land used for agricultural purposes is not improved property (44 CFR 206.221(d)).
3. Legal responsibility: A statute, formally adopted State or local code, or ordinance that gives local government officials responsibility to enter private property to remove debris or to perform work to remove an immediate threat (44 CFR 206.223(a)(3), 44 CFR 206.221(c), and 44 CFR 206.225(a)(3)).
4. Private property: Land and structures, to include contents within the structures, built on land that is owned by non-governmental entities (44 CFR 206.224(b)).
5. Private road: Any non-public road for which a subdivision of the State is not legally responsible to maintain. Private roads include roads owned and maintained by homeowners associations, including gated communities, and roads for which no entity has claimed responsibility. Local police, fire, and emergency medical entities may use these roads to provide services to the community (44 CFR 206.224(b)).
B. Approval for FEMA Assistance. FEMA will work with states affected by a disaster to designate those areas where the debris is so widespread that removal of the debris from private property is in the “public interest" pursuant to 44 CFR 206.224, and thus is eligible for FEMA Public Assistance reimbursement on a case-by-case basis.
1. Any State or local government that intends to seek reimbursement to remove debris from private property within a designated area will, prior to commencement of work, submit a written request for reimbursement to, and receive approval from, the Federal Coordinating Officer (FCO). The written request will include the following information:
a. Public Interest Determination (44 CFR 206.224(a)):
i. Immediate Threat to Life, Public Health, and Safety Determination. The basis of a determination by the State, county or municipal government's public health authority or other public entity that has legal authority to make such a determination that disaster-generated debris on private property in the designated area constitutes an immediate threat to life, public health, and safety; or
ii. Immediate Threat to Improved Property Determination. The basis of the determination by the State, county, or municipal government that the removal of disaster-generated debris is cost effective. The cost to remove the debris should be less than the cost of potential damage to the improved property in order for the debris removal to be eligible; or
iii. Ensure Economic Recovery of the Affected Community to the Benefit of the Community at Large Determination. The basis of the determination by the State, county, or municipal government that the removal of debris from commercial properties will expedite economic recovery of the community-at-large. Generally, commercial enterprises are not eligible for debris removal.
b. Documentation of Legal Responsibility (44 CFR 206.223(a)(3)).
A detailed explanation documenting the requesting State or local government’s authority and legal responsibility at the time of disaster to enter private property to remove debris, and confirmation that all legal processes and permission requirements (e.g., right-of-entry) for such action have been satisfied.
i. The eligible applicant requesting assistance must demonstrate the legal basis as established by law, ordinance, or code upon which it exercised or intends to exercise its responsibility following a major disaster to remove disaster-related debris from private property. Codes and ordinances must be germane to the condition representing an immediate threat to life, public health, and safety, and not merely define the applicant’s uniform level of services. Typically, solid waste disposal ordinances are considered part of an applicant’s uniform level of services.
States and local governments ordinarily rely on condemnation and/or nuisance abatement authorities to obtain legal responsibility prior to the commencement of debris removal work. There may be circumstances, however, where the State or local government determines that ordinary condemnation and/or nuisance abatement procedures are too time-consuming to address an immediate public health and safety threat. In such circumstances, applicants do not have to precisely follow their nuisance abatement procedures or other ordinances that would prevent the State or local government from taking emergency protective measures to protect public health and safety (44 CFR 206.225(a)).
ii. The applicant’s legal responsibility to take action where there is an immediate threat to life, public health, and safety must be independent of any expectation, or request, that FEMA will reimburse costs incurred for private property debris removal. In addition, legal responsibility is not established solely by an applicant obtaining signed rights-of-entry and hold harmless agreements from property owners.
c. Authorization for Debris Removal from Private Property (44 CFR 206.223(a)(3)). Confirmation that a legally-authorized official of the requesting applicant has ordered the exercise of public emergency powers or other appropriate authority to enter onto private property in the designated area in order to remove/reduce threats to life, public health, and safety threat via debris removal.
d. Indemnification (44 CFR 206.9). The requesting entity indemnifies the Federal government and its employees, agents, and contractors from any claims arising from the removal of debris from private property.
2. The FCO will approve or disapprove in writing each written request submitted by the State or local government for FEMA to designate areas eligible for private property debris removal. After receiving approval from the FCO, the State or local government may begin identifying properties and the specific scope of work for private property debris removal activities and apply for supplemental assistance through the Public Assistance Program.
C. Duplication of Benefits (44 CFR 206.191). FEMA is prohibited by Section 312 of the Stafford Act from approving funds for work that is covered by any other source of funding. Therefore, State and local governments must take reasonable steps to prevent such an occurrence, and verify that insurance coverage or any other source of funding does not exist for the debris removal work accomplished on each piece of private property.
1. When debris removal from private property is covered by an insurance policy, the insurance proceeds must be used as the first source of funding. Public Assistance grant funding may be used to pay for the remainder of the costs of debris removal from private property.
2. If FEMA discovers that a duplication of benefits from any other source of funding has occurred, FEMA will de-obligate funds from the Grantee in the amount that such assistance duplicates funding that the property owners received from other sources.
D. Eligibility of Debris Removal Work from Private Property (44 CFR 206.224(b)).
1. Eligible debris removal work from private property includes removal of:
a. Large piles of disaster-generated debris in the living, recreational, and working areas of properties in urban, suburban, and rural areas, including large lots.
b. Disaster-generated debris obstructing primary ingress and egress routes to improved property.
c. Disaster-damaged limbs and leaning trees in danger of falling on improved property, primary ingress or egress routes, or public rights-of-way.
i. Hazardous tree removal is eligible only if the tree is greater than six inches in diameter (measured at diameter breast height) and meets any of the following criterion: more than 50% of the crown is damaged or destroyed; the trunk is split or broken branches expose the heartwood; or the tree is leaning at an angle greater than 30 degrees and shows evidence of ground disturbance.
ii. Hazardous limb removal is eligible only if the limb is greater than two inches in diameter measured at the point of break.
d. Debris created by the removal of disaster-damaged interior and exterior materials from improved property.
e. Household hazardous wastes (such as household cleaning supplies, insecticides, herbicides, etc.)
f. Disaster-generated debris on private roads, including debris originating from private property and placed at the curb of public or private rights-of-way, provided that the removal of the debris is the legal responsibility of an eligible applicant, on the basis of removing an immediate threat to life, public health, and safety.
2. Ineligible debris removal work on private property includes the removal of:
a. Debris from vacant lots, forests, heavily wooded areas, unimproved property, and unused areas.
b. Debris on agricultural lands used for crops or livestock.
c. Concrete slabs or foundations-on-grade.
d. Reconstruction debris consisting of materials used in the reconstruction of disaster-damaged improved property.
E. Debris Removal from Commercial Property. The removal of debris from commercial property is generally ineligible for Public Assistance grant funding. It is assumed and expected that these commercial enterprises retain insurance that can and will cover the cost of debris removal. However, in some cases as determined by the FCO, the removal of debris from private commercial property by a State or local government may be eligible for FEMA reimbursement only when such removal is in the public interest (44 CFR 206.224(a) and (b)).
Industrial parks, golf courses, commercial cemeteries, apartments, condominiums, and mobile homes in commercial trailer parks are generally considered commercial property with respect to Public Assistance funding.
F. Environmental and Historic Review Requirements. Eligible debris removal activities on private property must satisfy environmental and historic preservation compliance review requirements as established by 44 CFR Parts 9 and 10, the National Historic Preservation Act, the Endangered Species Act, and all other applicable legal requirements.
VIII. ORIGINATING OFFICE: Disaster Assistance Directorate (Public Assistance Division)
IX. SUPERSESSION: This policy supersedes Recovery Policies 9523.13 and 9523.14, dated October 23, 2005, and all previous guidance on this subject.
X. REVIEW DATE: Three years from date of publication.
Carlos J. Castillo
Disaster Assistance Directorate
Disaster Assistance Policy 9523.13 - Debris Removal from Private Property (PDF 4.4MB)