After working overtime and with added personnel for more than three weeks, Statesboro’s yard waste crews are half done with the first round of removing Hurricane Matthew debris piled along the streets and rights of way, city officials said Tuesday.
“It looks like we’re done with about 50 percent of the first round around the city,” Deputy City Manager Robert Cheshire told City Council, “and obviously it’s taking extra time because of the type of debris that we’re dealing with, which in some cases is entire trees that we have to cut up and remove.”
The crews have hauled away the vegetative debris on four of the city’s eight sanitation routes. But this is considered “the first round” because residents will probably deposit more limbs and sawed up trees at the curb after the first piles are removed, Cheshire explained in an interview.
Routes that take one day to complete in the course of normal yard waste collection are taking three to four days each, according to Cheshire and Public Works and Engineering Director Jason Boyles.
Loading 10,000 yards
Boyles estimates that 10,000 cubic yards of debris will be removed within the city limits alone. After Winter Storm Pax in February 2014, the city removed 3,000 to 4,000 cubic yards of vegetative debris, weighing an estimated 1,000 tons. So if the same kind of material were now being collected, that 10,000 cubic yards would be expected to weigh more than 3,000 tons, or 6 million pounds.
But the earlier ice storm knocked down only limbs for the most part. With tree trunks felled by tropical storm-force winds now in the mix, the debris is even heavier by volume, Boyles noted.
His estimate does not include debris hauled by the county, by private contractors or by residents themselves, he said.
“We’re hoping to get through the first round by the end of November,” Boyles said.
The second round, he said, will probably include a lot less material and shouldn’t take as long to collect.
The city operates four to five lift trucks each day to collect the debris. When picking up ordinary seasonal yard trimmings, about 10 yard waste crew employees work these trucks, with each assigned a driver and operator. But for the storm cleanup, street crew personnel have been reassigned to create a daily storm debris workforce of 16–20 people, Boyles said.
“Due to the size of the material that’s out there, we’re having to use the streets crews with chainsaws to supplement our yard waste crews with the loader trucks,” he said.
These city employees have also been putting in 50-hour weeks instead of the usual 40 hours, Cheshire said. After the storm roared through the night of Oct. 7, the city crews began collecting debris Sunday, Oct. 9.
To burn or grind
The city, which operates the city-county inert waste landfill and household waste transfer station on Lakeview Road, waived tipping fees for vegetative debris hauled by Bulloch County residents for a week and a half, through Oct. 21. But the landfill then resumed collecting fees from everyone.
Debris that residents, landscapers and contractors haul should go to the landfill site, Cheshire said. But the city and county are taking the debris they collect themselves to a county-owned site away from the landfill. The city and county have made two separate piles at the special site to keep track of how much debris each collects, he said.
Whether the debris will be burned or chipped remains to be decided.
“We’re stockpiling it, and we’re trying to determine how we’ll dispose of it,” Cheshire said. “We’d like to either burn it or grind it and not put it in our inert landfill so we don’t have to use up what remaining permitted capacity we have.”
Burning it, he said, would require permission from the state Environmental Protection Division. The city and county are also coordinating their plans with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Local officials have a meeting with a FEMA representative Nov. 8 and may know more after that, Cheshire said.
Asked if chipped debris might have some value to the city as mulch, Boyles said this could be complicated by the cost of storing such a large quantity, or even having anywhere to put it. He mentioned a third alternative to burning or grinding.
“If we’re not able to do that, then we may be looking at contracting the removal of that material,” Boyles said.
With an amendment to an earlier disaster declaration issued by President Barack Obama, FEMA recognized Bulloch County on Oct. 18 as part of the region in Georgia eligible for both public and individual assistance.
The public assistance declaration provides the county and city governments and other local public agencies federal reimbursement of at least 75 percent of costs of storm cleanup and emergency protective measures.
Meanwhile, the individual assistance declaration makes residents eligible for grants for temporary rental assistance, essential home repairs and other serious disaster-related needs, such as repairing or replacing damaged or destroyed personal property, medical and dental expenses. Low-interest disaster loans from the Small Business Administration may also be available to cover losses not fully covered by insurance, FEMA stated in a press release.
People who sustained losses caused by Hurricane Matthew can apply for assistance by calling FEMA’s help line at (800) 621-3362 for voice, 711 and video relay service (VRS). Individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing or who have difficulty speaking and use a TTY should call (800) 462-7585. The lines are open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. local time until further notice. Online registration is available at DisasterAssistance.gov.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.