Finally, End to Irma Debris in Sight



The City of Sarasota announced a significant post-storm update last week: collection of all debris accumulated after Hurricane Irma has concluded. But while the city grinds down the wood and other refuse collected over two months, both Manatee and Sarasota continue collection. And with the end of Hurricane Season still a week and a half away, the question remains why the garbage remained in so many places around the Gulf Coast for so long.

Officials note that the wide reach of Irma generated debris over a massive area of Florida. Sarasota Public Works Director Doug Jeffcoat says the 60,000 cubic yards of storm debris gathered within the city limits alone represents what Public Works crews in Sarasota typically collect over two years when gathering yard waste. “We're pleased with the overall result, removing such a large volume of storm debris from the curbsides, as scheduled based on the contractor's initial projection,” he says. “To do two years' worth of work in two months is a significant undertaking. The City of Sarasota had a strong emergency contract in place prior to the hurricane making landfall.  Contractors didn't leave the City and additional subcontractors were added to ensure the debris was picked up in a timely fashion.”

Sarasota County officials say a first sweep of their jurisdiction will be completed by the end of this week, and a second sweep will be done after Thanksgiving. “It’s just a long process,” says Brian User, Sarasota County solid waste collections manager. The county so far has collected 250,000 cubic yards of debris so far. “Even though we throw as many trucks as possible at this, it’s still a process to get every individual pile,” Usher says.

Manatee County officials through a statement online announced 80 percent of Irma-relate storm debris had been picked up as of Nov. 10, and all debris would be picked up within coming weeks. Both Sarasota and Manatee county governments have online debris collection maps where citizens can see when they are scheduled to have debris collected.

Usher reminds that Irma hit a significant portion of the state of Florida, making it difficult for out-of-state support to come in after the storm. Exacerbating the problem, Hurricane Harvey had struck Texas before Irma hit Florida, so many of those external resources had been dispatched to another part of the country when the need in the Sunshine State arose. That delayed major efforts in addressing clean-up, but once trucks were available, Sarasota County was dispatching as many as 70 trucks at once around the county collecting debris.

Fortunately, Florida didn’t see another hurricane hit the state in the meantime. If it had, some of the debris collected at roads might have been disrupted again. To some degree, Usher says, there’s simply some problems that can’t be mitigated entirely. “It is a risk. There’s complications with every storm that comes through,” he says.

Photo courtesy City of Sarasota: Crews grind down debris gathered after Hurricane Irma.

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