The sandy situation presented to Brick officials was part-comical, part illustrative of notorious government "red tape."
If sand pushed onto public streets by Superstorm Sandy is moved from one place to another, it is considered debris that can be charged to a county contractor. But if the sand is simply pushed away from the street to clear a roadway, the township is responsible for paying for its removal and getting reimbursed by the federal government.
"Don't try to think of it logically," cautioned Business Administrator Scott Pezarras, during a township council meeting this week.
Council members questioned a $1.7 million bill for Sandy cleanup, asking Pezarras why the bill couldn't have been paid through the county's debris management contract.
The problem, Pezarras said, is that sand is debris - but only sometimes, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"If you actually remove it, if it goes in a truck and goes to another location, that's debris removal," that is covered under the county contract, he said. "But it must be removed. If you're just pushing the sand, that's known as a 'category B' charge, not a 'category A' charge."
The bill in question had to do with clearing public streets where feet of sand had built up during the storm. The sand was pushed away to clear roadways and will eventually find itself back on the beach after being sifted.
While the money will still be reimbursed by FEMA to the tune of 75 percent, the township is required to lay the money out up front and process the payments.
So goes life as a public administrator in the wake of a natural disaster.
"FEMA views 'pushing' as an entirely separate category of work from 'picking things up,'" said Township Attorney Jean Cipriani, leading to chuckles from township residents who attended the meeting. "It's an entirely important distinction for them."
"The debris management company, AshBritt, only has a contract with the state for debris management, not pushing [debris]," Pezarras added.
Sand removal was required mainly in the township's barrier island neighborhoods, but also in some mainland areas, officials said.
Some streets remain covered in sand, which still has to be removed. Pezarras said the ultimate goal is to collect the sand, sift it and return it to the beach or the dunes. Though that work has already begun, a larger plan is in the works to finish the job.
The FEMA follies also extend to tree branch removal.
"Trees are considered debris, but if you're not removing the tree – if you're cutting it up and moving it to the side of the road – that's considered 'category B,'" said Pezarras. "If you're actually taking the material out, which we subsequently did, moving it to another site and chipping it there, that's considered 'category A,' debris removal."
"Wow," replied Council President John Ducey after Pezarras' explanation.
Pezarras has said the township expects to be reimbursed in full by the summer. An initial round of reimbursements for Brick was announced Tuesday.