About six weeks after Hurricane Irma, St. Johns County is whittling down debris leftover from the storm. In the meantime, resources across the state and the rest of the Southeast are stretched thin.
Neal Shinkre, public works director for the county, told The Record on Wednesday that about 400,000 cubic yards of debris have been picked up with an estimated 250,000 cubic yards to go. He said the county is on track to get its initial pass completed by Nov. 15.
He said the county’s contractors are currently removing about 12,000 to 13,000 cubic yards a day.
Shinkre said the county is up to 23 trucks from 18 last week. He said all those trucks are double trailers, capable of holding about 100 cubic yards of debris each, and that there are five smaller trucks now clearing debris from smaller roads with tighter turns and less space to maneuver.
In addition to a primary contract with Deerfield Beach-based AshBritt for disaster-related debris pickup, the county is also using hazard waste contracts with Republic Services and Advanced Disposal to help collect debris each Saturday.
“We’re trying to resource out as much as we can and maximize everything we can given the situation,” Shinkre said, adding counties and municipalities across the state are facing similar challenges.
While he’s confident the county will beat its Nov. 15 estimate to complete the first sweep of the county, he acknowledged the long wait for many residents, especially those along smaller roads.
“The most common thing I get is, ‘The truck came, I saw it, it never came to my house,’” Shinkre said.
He commended his staff for their efforts juggling disaster recovery and normal operational duties while improving communications with residents and providing the best information possible when certain areas can expect to be reached.
The county does not provide debris collection for St. Augustine or St. Augustine Beach or along the state roads, although Shinkre said the county does field some of those calls and works with the state and cities to coordinate efforts.
Moving forward, he said the county will likely start chipping the storm debris it has collected next week. Collection of construction and demolition waste, including household items such as refrigerators and sofas, will also begin soon.
Shinkre said the county is not expecting to collect more than 100,000 cubic yards of that type of debris, well below the amount collected for Hurricane Matthew. He said the county decided to push back collection of household debris in order to give people more time to get it out to the curbs.
“Overall, we’re in very good shape relative to what the state is doing,” Shinkre said. “Percentage wise we’re pretty high up there.”
Headlines from around Florida and across much of the Southeast would indicate St. Johns County is far from alone in terms of waiting.
Multiple outlets in Miami-Dade County are recently reporting about 2.5 million cubic yards or more an estimated 3 million cubic yards of debris left behind by Irma have been collected.
In Collier County, the Naples Daily News reported on Oct. 9, that nearly 250,000 cubic yards of debris have been picked up in the county since AshBritt, the county’s disaster recovery contractor, began Sept. 22 working 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily to collect Irma-related yard debris.
“That means at least 15 times more debris — an excess of 4 million cubic yards — is still piled along roads,” the report says. “Visualize 1 cubic yard as roughly the size of a residential washing machine.”
Collier officials and residents were bracing for the likely possibility debris collection would extend into 2018.
City crews and contractors in Orlando, according to an update posted to the city’s website on Monday, are just completing their first pass of debris collection and that contractors have been directed to begin the second pass of collection. The update says debris left by Irma is more than the city would normally collect in 4.5 years.