With hurricane storm debris collections underway, County and City of Sarasota staff members ask for residents’ patience

Process will be lengthy one, leaders of both local governments stress

Just a few months before the Sarasota County Commission formally named him county administrator, Jonathan Lewis, as an assistant administrator, experienced residents’ complaints about the weeks of delay in the collection of debris piled up following Hurricane Irma’s September 2017 strike.

This week, on Oct. 3, during the County Commission’s final hearing on the 2022-23 fiscal year budget, Lewis acknowledged that 2017 situation and offered good news. “We’re not really having that problem this time,” he said of preparations for storm debris collections. “We were one of the first in the queue, if not the first in the queue … thanks to our team,” Lewis said.

The collections were scheduled to begin on Oct. 6, Lewis pointed out. Initially, he added, staff expects its contractors to be using about 60 trucks, though that number could be increased if necessary.

“We’re seeing a lot more vegetation down than even in Irma,” he continued. Staff’s hope, Lewis said, is that the collections will be completed in a couple of months. “If people think it’s going to be done in a week, that’s just not going to happen.”

On Sept. 20, 2017, Rich Collins, director of the county’s Emergency Services Department, noted in an email to then-County Administrator Tom Harmer, “With the tremendous amount of damage across so many counties, debris contractors are having a difficult time providing the needed resources around the State.” Collins added, “We are also encountering this issue in our need for resources. To expedite our needed resources, we are considering the use of emergency procurement for other contractors, working with the State Department of Emergency Management team on alternatives, and working through our lobbyist at the Governor’s Office to request assistance,” Collins noted.

“Our neighboring counties are also dealing with the same issues, and we are communicating with them as well,” he added. “We will continue to pursue every available avenue to obtain resources and provide regular updates on our progress. To date, we have a combination of contractor resources as well as our county resources from [the] Public Works and Parks [Recreation and Natural Resources departments] assisting in the process and have begun collections in the Southern areas of the County,” he noted.

Two days earlier — on Sept. 18, 2017 — Todd Kerkering, the emergency manager for the City of Sarasota, told the City Commission that not only were the city and county having to contend with competition for resources because of the statewide impacts, but also because Irma arrived so close on the heels of Hurricane Harvey in Texas.

He added that he knew county staff members had requested 25 trucks to haul storm debris, “and they were told they might get four.”

Nonetheless, in the aftermath of Ian — even with contractors on Oct. 6 having begun collecting the debris — county staff is asking for patience.

Already, Lewis pointed out to the commissioners on Oct. 3, staff had estimated that the vegetative debris — heavy tree branches, palm fronds and logs, for examples — would total approximately 1.5 million cubic yards. Staff has estimated another 200,000 cubic yards of structural debris and about 150,000 cubic yards of “mixed, flood-generated debris,” Lewis said.

Residents are welcome to call the county Contact Center at 311 or 941-861-5000 if they have questions or concerns about storm debris, Lewis added.

Detailed information also is available on the county website.

Moreover, staff has created an interactive map, so a resident can enter an address and learn of the expected timeline for the contractor to show up in the person’s neighborhood. This is the link for that interactive map: https://bit.ly/stormdebrispickupmap.

Collections underway in City of Sarasota, as well

A City of Sarasota advisory issued on Oct. 4 also asked for residents’ patience and cooperation. “The amount of storm debris is being estimated to be twice as much as was from Hurricane Irma, and this will be an operation that will take several months to accomplish,” that advisory pointed out. “Further information will be provided as the storm recovery process continues,” it said.

The city’s collections began on Oct. 5.

The Oct. 4 advisory provided the following rules for city residents, to ensure that their debris is picked up:

  • Place vegetative debris at least 5 feet away from mailboxes, water meters, street signs, light poles, fire hydrants or any other ornamental structures. “This will provide adequate room for heavy machinery to pick up debris.
  • “Do not place debris in the street or on top of storm drains.
  • “Do not mix household waste, bulk waste or recyclables with storm debris.
  • “Do not bag vegetative storm debris or place [it] in a container. Bagged debris will be picked up; however, [that] may not occur during the first collection cycle. Bagged debris must be kept separate from the vegetative storm debris pile.”

Finally, the advisory said, with emphasis, “All debris must be placed at the curb in the public right-of-way. It is the homeowner’s responsibility to bring the debris to the curb and properly separate it. At this time, debris removal crews will not enter onto private property to collect or remove debris.”

More details about the county’s post-Ian collections

During an Oct. 6 news media briefing at Rothenbach Park in Sarasota, Wendi Crisp, outreach coordinator for the county’s Solid Waste Division, provided information to facilitate the storm debris collections.

The “big, loose, bulky items,” she explained, should be placed away from regular yard waste, as well as fire hydrants, signs, mailboxes, light poles and parked vehicles — anything that potentially could be damaged by the claw trucks the contractors will use to pick up the vegetative materials strewn countywide by Hurricane Ian.

If the waste is “not properly prepared, or if it’s not accessible,” she also stressed, it may be tagged for later pickup.

Crisp further cautioned, “This will be a lengthy process.”

The storm debris will be taken to a management site for processing, she noted. It will be ground up and repurposed.

Anyone wishing to self-haul storm debris to a county facility, she continued, may take it to one of two locations: Rothenbach Park, which stands at 8650 Bee Ridge Road in Sarasota; and the Jackson Road Transfer Station, which is located at 250 S. Jackson Road in Venice.

Individuals who do pursue the self-hauling option, she pointed out, also will have to unload the materials themselves. However, no fee will be charged to deposit the waste, she said; a person will just need to show proof of county residency.

As for the collection of construction and demolition debris — fences, drywall, carpet and furniture, for examples — county staff will provide information at a later date, Crisp said.

Additionally, she pointed out, staff is working to ensure that storm debris will be picked up in neighborhoods on private roads. A form allowing the county right of entry, which also will hold the county harmless for any problems, must be signed by a president of a homeowners association or a representative of the management company, Crisp noted.

Staff is collecting information on private communities, she continued, so those forms can be provided to the appropriate persons as soon as possible.

Further, Crisp encouraged county residents to use the interactive map that County Administrator Lewis had mentioned. “It will be updated continuously,” Crisp said, as “the trucks will be working in the zones continuously. … They will be making multiple visits to the homes …” The contractors will be operating seven days a week, she added.

Still, Crisp emphasized again, “Unfortunately, we’re not going to be able to have the debris disappear overnight.”

Anyone who wishes to prepare smaller storm debris items for pickup by Waste Management crews may do so, she pointed out, as long as the materials are prepared in the same manner as regular yard waste. The loads cannot weigh more than 40 pounds, she said, and no branch can be longer than 4 feet. Twigs, moss and other smaller items, for examples, will be collected by Waste Management, she added.

In response to a question about the county’s suspension of recycling, Crisp said, “We do hope to have that up soon.”
Garbage should not be placed in recycling containers, she pointed out, as Waste Management crews would have no way of knowing that the containers held regular garbage.

Moreover, she continued, given the amount of garbage and yard waste containers that have been placed curbside for regular Waste Management collections, which resumed on Oct. 3, not everything may be picked up on the regular day for a neighborhood. “Waste Management is getting to the [garbage and yard waste] as quick as it can,” she said.

Wrapping up the media briefing, Jamie Carson, the new director of the county Communications Department, stressed, “This team is ready to respond” to the Hurricane Ian debris situation. After Irma, she said, “I think we had about two trucks on site.”

Carson also urged residents not to overexert themselves as they clean up their yards. Everyone should take health into consideration as well, she said.