Public works officials provide guidance on storm debris cleanup timing and policies

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St. Johns County public works officials said the county will not disclose the exact timing of Hurricane Irma debris cleanup efforts in specific locations to avoid setting false expectations.

"That’s definitely a lesson learned from previous storms,” said Greg Caldwell, assistant public works director for the county. “It’s very difficult for us to put that out there.”

Caldwell explained, however, that the county’s methodology is to clear major roads first and then establish a presence in surrounding communities. In Ponte Vedra, he said the county’s contractors first addressed Roscoe Boulevard and will subsequently move onto the next most impacted parts of town. Caldwell said residents can call the county’s Solid Waste division at (904) 827-6980 to see if trucks are in their area.

St. Johns County has contracted two companies for its storm debris operation, Caldwell noted. AshBritt Environmental is managing the debris hauling process, and Tetra Tech is overseeing and monitoring the entire debris cleanup effort. With these two companies involved, Caldwell said a total of 21 trucks are working throughout the county to pick up the lasting reminders of Irma. As of Friday, Sept. 22, Caldwell said 77,000 cubic yards of debris have been taken off the streets. He added that the contractors have been picking up an average of 12,000-13,000 additional cubic yards per day.

Caldwell revealed that TPC Sawgrass is providing the county with a debris management site to help expedite the process. Trucks fill up, unload at TPC, manage the debris there and eventually take it to a final disposal site, he said, which ultimately enables the contractors to have quicker turnarounds.

The assistant public works director also explained that the storm debris contractors have different guidelines for pickup that than those of the residential waste collectors like Republic Services and Advanced Disposal, which presents a challenge for the county and its residents.

“Our residential wants everything in containers and bags,” said Caldwell. “Our storm guy wants everything large and in big piles for them to come up and grab. Our storm guy will not pick up containers or bags because they mulch everything at the end of the day.”

As a result, St. Johns County Solid Waste Division Manager Wendy Hicks recommends residents bag or containerize anything that is small and place piles of large storm debris in a separate location at the curb. Caldwell emphasized that it’s important for residents to separate their debris from their normal household garbage and recycling, which will continue to be picked up as usual on the normal schedule. He added that it’s important that residents also separate the different types of storm debris, explaining that the county is noticing that many residents are mixing vegetative debris with construction and demolition debris, which is difficult for the contractors to pick up.

Hicks said storm debris should not be placed on the sidewalks or the road, under power lines or adjacent to any structures, fences, power poles, meter boxes, fire hydrants or mailboxes. She also reminded residents not to place any hazardous waste or biowaste with the debris. Hicks said residents can bring hazardous waste to the county’s transfer stations at 250 North Stratton Road in St. Augustine or at 3005 Allen Nease Road in Elkton. If residents have questions regarding storm debris, Hicks said they can call Solid Waste at (904) 827 6980 or visit Recyclestjohns.com.

As far as an overall timeline for the storm debris operation, Caldwell said it took St. Johns County and its contractors three-and-a-half months to clean up approximately 700,000 cubic yards of debris from Hurricane Matthew. He said the county had more resources with that storm because it wasn’t as damaging across the state; yet, he said the county is hoping that Irma produced less debris than Matthew.  

Overall, Caldwell said that St. Johns County is confident in its plan to get the job done, especially compared to surrounding communities that he said are struggling with their respective contractors and resources.

“St. Johns County is probably in the best position right now to respond,” he said. “We are very happy to have the amount [resources] that we currently have in St. Johns County and feel like it’s going to be enough to get us through. We will be here until the final pile is picked up and removed.”

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