A response to ‘broken promises by Durham County’

Jul. 28, 2014 @ 11:07 AM

In his letter to the editor regarding the March 7th ice storm, R.J. “Barny” Bernard of Durham County expressed his disappointment with the county not picking up debris on his property from the storm.  Unfortunately, many Durham residents were affected by that storm.  Debris that fell within the city limits, whether on the street or in many cases private property, was removed by the city’s Street Maintenance Division, which is responsible for removing debris on city-maintained streets.  Residents who reside within city limits pay for this service through city taxes.

Roads and right-of-way maintenance in the unincorporated areas of Durham County are the responsibility of and maintained by the N. C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT).  As county governments in North Carolina are not authorized by state law to maintain roads, and they do not and cannot tax for this service, Durham County government is not equipped to provide street and right-of-way maintenance service to residents in our unincorporated areas. With that said, one early action we did take to assist those impacted involved making room at our two north Durham convenience centers (Bahama and Rougemont) for homeowners to bring debris for disposal. We shared that information via a news release to the local media, email listservs and with postings on the county’s website and social media sites.

NCDOT removed debris that fell in the right-of-way in unincorporated areas.  Thereafter, some residents pulled debris from their properties on to roads, and in some cases created safety hazards.  NCDOT maintained that debris that fell on private property is the responsibility of the property owner and did not remove debris placed on the roadside. 

As Mr. Bernard noted, the county picked up debris on Russell Road and stopped short of his home.  Because a safety hazard existed in some areas,  and NCDOT chose not to remove the debris, the county made an effort over a three-day period to clear a limited area deemed hardest hit by removing debris from the right-of-way where safety concerns were imminent, particularly for emergency-vehicle access.  The county hired a private contractor for this specific emergency work.

In such instances, residents have several options for handling debris that falls on private property.  They may hire a landscaping or tree removal service, contact their home insurer or homeowners association for assistance, take the debris to one of four county convenience sites, or contact the North Carolina Forest Service to request a burn permit.

We regret that Mr. Bernard and other residents suffered the consequences of damage caused by the ice storm.  We will learn from this ice storm and work to seek improved solutions with our state and local partners going forward.