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Deadline extended to sign up for fire debris cleanup

Jackson County has extended a deadline for property owners to submit right-of-entry forms that allow cleanup crews to clear fire debris from their land.

The deadline was pushed forward from Oct. 15 to Friday, Oct. 23.

Teams from the Environmental Protection Agency and their contractors have already arrived in Jackson County. They’ve been assessing damage and staging their equipment.

On-the-ground cleanup work will start in earnest Monday, with crews tackling hazardous household waste as the first stage of the cleanup. For phase one, 100% of the cost is being covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state of Oregon.

The county sent out more than 950 right-of-entry permission forms to property owners but had received only about 670 back as of earlier this week, county officials said.

“Without the ROE form, we will not be able to help people to begin the process of rebuilding,” said John Vial, acting director of the county’s Emergency Operations Center. “If you know anyone that has lost their home in the fires, please ask them to complete the form, permitting us to begin.”

Property owners can choose to take part in just the hazardous debris cleanup, or that first phase plus the second phase of general debris cleanup. The second phase has been dubbed the “ash and trash” phase.

FEMA has pledged to pay at least 75% of the cost of the second phase, although the state is asking the federal agency to cover 100%.

Some property owners mistakenly believe that signing the right-of-entry form means some of the money they need for rebuilding their homes will be taken by the government, county officials said.

That misconception could cause some to miss the deadline to sign the form.

Jackson County officials said no local, state or federal agency will attempt to recoup insurance money dedicated to the rebuilding of people’s homes.

For insurance policies with a dedicated amount allocated for debris removal only, government agencies may seek reimbursement to help cover the cost of cleanup.

But if property owners are given a lump sum for all cleanup and rebuilding, the government will not attempt to recoup any money until after a home is rebuilt. If there are remaining funds at that time, the government may seek that money, Jackson County officials said.

If property owners choose to clean up their land themselves, the costs could come out of a lump sum settlement and could cost property owners more than if they join the coordinated cleanup, county officials said.

Officials with the county and the cities of Phoenix and Talent are recommending that people not attempt to clean up their property themselves. Hazardous waste must be removed and disposed of in accordance with a host of environmental laws.

Right-of-entry forms are available at www.jacksoncounty.org/ROE or by calling the right-of-entry processing center helpline at 1-682-800-5737.

Meanwhile, the EPA has set up a hotline at 541-225-5549 for Oregon property owners who have questions about the phase one household hazardous waste cleanup. The hotline offers help in English and Spanish.

Property owners can also provide information about their property that could speed up the EPA removal work.

Hazardous debris has to be removed correctly before general debris cleanup can begin, the EPA said.

The hazardous debris includes paint, cleaners, solvents, pesticides, fuel, oil, batteries, ammunition and pressurized tanks, such as propane tanks.

Once crews have cleared hazardous debris, properties will receive a sign indicating phase one is complete, making them eligible for the phase two “ash and trash” cleanup, the EPA said Friday.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

Streaks of red fire retardant dropped by air tankers are seen on Sept. 20 amid the structures burned by the Almeda fire in Talent.{ }Spenser Heaps/Deseret News