Please remove these mounds of debris!

Please remove this debris!

Please remove this debris! 

By Garth A. Rose

It has been almost six weeks since Hurricane Irma breezed through South Florida, but still curbsides and front yards across the region have mounds of debris. “I can’t understand why the debris can’t be removed from by front curb,” said West Kendall homeowner Bridgette Watts. She said she has called the waste management offices at both the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County, “but am only asked to be patient, because the debris will soon be picked up. I am weary that rats and other vermin will begin lurking in the debris.”

Watts’ complaint is multiplied several times across the region.

However, there is not much that can be done as there are just not enough trucks to complete hauling the estimated seven million cubic yards of debris in Broward, Miami and Palm Beach Counties. Overall, it’s estimated Irma left some 100 million cubic yards of debris across Florida.

Simply not enough trucks

Larry Downer of Miami’s Public Works Department, said, “The region never had this accumulation of tree branches, broken fence, roof material, etc. In storms in the past the debris was concentrated in one, or a few cities. This storm left debris over all South Florida, trees and fences blew down on a wide scale. There are simply not enough trucks to clear the debris in the time residents would like it to be cleared.”

Rates for removal increased

To attract debris-removing contractors, cities like Miami have been offering much higher rates per cubic yard to remove it. After the storm, the city doubled its rates to contractors, but this succeeded in only some 122,200 cubic yards removed. Recently, city officials again increased the rate from $7.22 to $15 per hour to contractors to remove each cubic yard.

The slow pace of removal had City of Miami Assistant City Manager Nzeribe Ihekwaba, originally estimating clearing all the debris in Miami would take up to six-months, but he is now optimistic that the increase rates will hasten the process.

With large South Florida cities like Miami able to pay higher rates to contractors, some of the smaller cities north of South Florida, are increasingly disadvantaged by losing contracted truckers to their southern neighbors.

FEMA will reimburse cities/counties

Actually, paying to remove trash won’t be an additional financial burden to cities or counties. FEMA is responsible to reimburse them for up to 90 percent of the cost of debris removal. However, it must be efficiently coordinated and documented to enable the municipalities be eligible to be reimbursed by FEMA. “This cannot be done as a hasty rush effort,” Downer said.

He also noted that across the region, people are adding items like old furniture and garbage bags to the piles. “Residents who pile garbage on to the natural hurricane-related debris will have more delay in getting the debris removed. Most of the debris will be mulched. The debris removing contractors have no time to process the debris and remove old furniture and garbage bag, so where they see this, they won’t collect the debris.”

Palm Beach County

Earlier this week Palm Beach County announced it was taking a loan of $35 million to help remove Irma-related garbage in that county. The county’s director of Solid Waste Authority Mark Hammond was reported as saying some 2.1 of 3 million cubic yards of debris have already been removed, costing $23 million.

Additional funding is needed to remove the remainder. The additional funding was approved by the Solid Waste Authority Board. With additional funding, the county optimistically plan to complete the first round of mounting debris removal for 98 percent of the county households by this week.

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