The end of suspension of FEMA contractor work in Washington County is set to start January 10, 2024.
The coming end was mentioned Thursday, Dec. 14, during a Board of County Commissioners meeting. The three emergency management contractors for the county are Wheeler Emergency Management Contractors, Metric Engineering, and True North Emergency Management Services.
“It is a fact that we had to stop the work–basically overnight–for the fact that we have not got reimbursements from the state,” Commission Chairman David Pettis. “Our intention is to start work as soon as possible.”
Wheeler has been the long-term emergency work contractor with Washington County. Metric and True North were selected as contractors this year, though no work has currently been performed on their end.
Reimbursements have been pending because of requests for information (RFI) from the state.The RFIs were based on asphalt placement and a question about ditches being created.
“The last information I received was that it’s going to an independent review, kind of a neutral (party),” Pettis said after being asked about the matter by Commissioner and former Chairman Tray Hawkins. “Not the state level. An independent review and they should know something within the next few days, hopefully.”
Pettis said he hopes to have a sense of direction by Jan. 10.
Talk has circulated in the community that Wheeler is the subject of an FBI investigation. County officials have acknowledged hearing of an investigation involving a contractor. The details of the investigation are currently unknown.
The contracts have been revised allowing for an additional suspension of time “for unforeseen causes” since the two options previously allowed the county to either allow the contractor to go back to work or terminate the contract.
“Such additional suspensions shall be agreed upon by both parties in writing by a change order that suspends the work and extends the contract time for the agreed-upon period of time,” the amended contract said.
The suspension, which could be for 90 days, allows the county a third option if the contractor can’t go back to work but the county doesn’t want to terminate the contract. The 90-day timeframe is a “worst case scenario,” Pettis said.
“We don’t want to extend it any further than we have too,” Pettis said. “With the state, it’s so uncertain sometimes so we have to put in there a timeframe we can work under.”
The three contractors have reportedly agreed to the amendments.
Community member Benita Crittendon, who frequently attends BOCC meetings and criticizes alleged corruption and a lack of transparency, said she is “not an advocate for an unending continuous use of federal monies that I don’t believe benefits the county.”
“I think it’s caused more problems to this county than benefit,” Crittendon said. “I’ll repeat again: it’s more of a benefit to the friends and family plans associated with what I see as an enrichment scheme of certain parties.”
Crittendon said the “county needs to cut its losses” and “get back to county business and get away from FEMA.”