Cleaning Up Debris From Irma Far From Over

2017-09-27 | Press Journal

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – When Hurricane Irma hit, Austin Gribble gave up laying hardwood flooring and bought two chainsaws.

He pulled in two friends – including a boat mechanic – and joined a long line of storm debris haulers going to the Indian River County Landfill off Oslo Road southwest of Vero Beach .

They haven't stopped, and the job is far from complete.

Nearly a quarter of the debris in Indian River County's unincorporated areas has been picked up, Indian River County officials said Tuesday.

Vero Beach has collected about one-third of the debris in the city, said Vero Beach Public Works Director Monte Falls .

Sebastian has collected 86.5 percent of its waste, according to the city manager's office.

For now, each government is taking its waste to its own area. The county's goes to the county landfill. Sebastian's goes to the city's municipal airport; Vero Beach's is being hauled to a holding area west of U.S. 1 near the Vero Beach Regional Airport .

Indian River County has a contract with Ceres Environmental Services Inc. to collect all of the vegetative debris and will pay up to $2 million for the cleanup.

The company began picking up debris along public roads on Sept. 18 . The county's debris cleanup plan calls for the pickup to be complete within five to seven weeks.

Since Sept. 19 , the county has collected 24,521 cubic yards – largely from along public roads in unincorporated parts of county.

Local governments officials said they expect the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reimburse the cost of picking up debris. It can take years. Indian River County is still waiting on reimbursement from Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

The county hasn't started taking away the debris from private roads because FEMA hasn't yet said it would pay for that work, County Administrator Jason Brown said Tuesday.

Some private road pickups are being done by private haulers or homeowners.

Through Wednesday, the county is waiving fees for taking the waste to the dump, Brown said.

William Kevin Hodge began working at the landfill Sunday and has seen more than 300 trucks dump loads of yard waste in the three days since.

He said trucks of all sizes will come to dispose of the debris.

"They don't want to wait for the county or the city, so they just bring their own," Hodge said.

Gribble is one of the independent haulers and he is charging $300 per pickup for roadside debris. He charges extra for cutting down limbs or moving fallen branches.

"A lot of the people beachside – they just want it out of there, so they pay," said Gribble, who used to use his white pickup and trailer for the installation of hardwood flooring.

Gribble said he'll keep at it until it's all gone or his phone stops ringing.

County officials estimate that 100,000 cubic yards of yard waste was generated by Hurricane Irma in the unincorporated parts of the county.

Himanshu Mehta , managing director of the Solid Waste Disposal District , estimates that an average household generated 8 to 12 cubic yards of waste during Hurricane Irma. One cubic yard is equal to the size of a 3-foot-by-3-foot square.

Mehta said county workers accompany the crews as they collect debris. Each worker carries a map and highlights the roads as they are cleared. He said people try to hide all kinds of things in the piles – from plastic bags to fence posts to even a toilet. Crews will not remove piles that contain anything other than yard waste.

The vegetation is piled high at two sites at the landfill. Workers in cranes drop the debris into mulchers that spit out mountains of coarsely ground brown mulch. The county will pay Mr. Mulch Inc. more than $20 per ton to receive, grind, load and then transport the mulch offsite.

Mehta said Mr. Mulch Inc. typically uses the mulch in pasture lands for cattle.