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Read all of the PD's fire coverage here

Northern California’s massive government-sponsored cleanup of debris from the October wildfires is back on track after a new contract approved by state leaders allowed the effort to move forward, despite formal protests filed earlier this week against two previous federal agreements.

The Governor’s Office of Emergency Services said it authorized a new agreement Friday with the Burlingame-based company ECC to advance the public debris removal program in Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties without delay. Federal officials had already signed off on two major contracts to govern the remainder of the cleanup, but work associated with those agreements stopped earlier this week following objections filed by Florida contractor AshBritt Inc. with the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Even though some cleanup work continued, the contract issues raised questions about whether debris removal in Sonoma County and surrounding areas would face major delays. State leaders said the program now is moving full speed ahead.

“Residents have suffered enough through this devastating disaster — they shouldn’t have to suffer again through this ridiculous contract challenge,” said state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg. “The state of California will be able to meet the same timeline the federal government had established to complete the cleanup.”

The state emergency services office was allowed to award the contract to ECC without going through a competitive bidding process because of an executive order issued by Gov. Jerry Brown during the October disaster, McGuire said.

As of Thursday, crews had already removed more than 856,000 tons of debris and cleared 49 percent of the properties involved in the public program in Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and Lake counties. Almost all properties in Lake County have been cleared, and the remaining work should be covered by an earlier agreement with AshBritt approved by the Army Corps of Engineers, according to a Corps spokeswoman.

Properties in the other three counties are expected to be cleared within about two months. In Sonoma County, the Corps had initially aimed to have debris removal complete by the end of February, but officials now think some neighborhoods won’t be finished until March.

Residents shouldn’t notice any major difference between the federally contracted cleanup and the state-contracted version, officials said.

“This is all about keeping the foot on the gas pedal,” said Brad Alexander, a spokesman for the state emergency services office.

ECC’s new state contract will not exceed $200 million, according to Alexander. The Corps had previously awarded a $475 million contract to ECC for the remainder of Sonoma County’s public debris removal and a $160 million contract to Minnesota-based Ceres Environmental Services for the other counties.

It’s not clear exactly how the state and federal contracts will ultimately be squared with each other. The state anticipates federal reimbursement for the contract it approved Friday.

In a statement Friday evening, AshBritt CEO Brittany Perkins said her company challenged the federal contract awarded to ECC for the remaining Sonoma County debris removal because the company “believes the protest is in the long term best interest of the recovery and the community.”

The company, which was hired to work on earlier stages of the cleanup and lost out on federal contracts for the remainder of the project, did not reveal the precise nature of its objections to the Sonoma County contract. The Corps continues to work toward a resolution of the federal contract dispute, and it will stay involved with the Northern California cleanup while the state-sponsored work continues, according to spokeswoman Nancy Allen.

Shelters for Pawnee fire evacuees

Lower Lake High School, 9430 Lake St., Lower Lake, is the official shelter established for people evacuating from the Pawnee fire. It is equipped to handle animals.

The Clearlake Oaks Moose Lodge, 15900 E. Highway 20, Clearlake Oaks, is not authorized by the Office of Emergency Services but is also sheltering fire evacuees, mostly people in campers and RVs who want their animals with them.

There is an authorized Lake County animal services station in an open field at Highway 53 and Anderson Ridge Road in Lower Lake.

“The Corps will be assisting the state with technical support,” Allen said. “All processes and procedures will be the same. It’ll be a team effort with the Corps and FEMA and the state, as it has been since the beginning.”

You can reach Staff Writer J.D. Morris at 707-521-5337 or jd.morris@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @thejdmorris.

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