October 8, 2017
New Irma Waste Dumps Give Residents a Place to Get Rid of Hurricane Debris
By Bill Smith
"Get that stuff out of here" vaulted to the top of many a honey-do list this weekend, as Lee County opened another facility for residents to dump the overwhelming piles of horticultural waste left behind after Hurricane Irma's sweep through Southwest Florida.
A new bring-it-yourself public disposal site for horticultural debris opened in south Fort Myers on Saturday, joining a facility at the Lee County Mosquito Control headquarters near the Buckingham air strip.
Soon after the newest site opened at 14790 A & W Bulb Road, residents started to trickle in with trailers, pickups and trunks filled with all manner of horticultural waste that had been befouling their yards for weeks.
"I've been trying to find a place to bring it," said Antonio Delgado of North Fort Myers as he unloaded sticks, palm fronds and tree roots from the small trailer he towed with a compact Kia in the first of what he expected would be several trips.
"I live in a nice neighborhood, I hated seeing all this in the front, on my lawn,” Delgado said.
County commissioners last week called for stepping up work to pick up the immense piles of debris piled on street after learning of problems the county was having getting enough disposal trucks on the streets to handle some three million cubic yards of waste left in the aftermath of the storm.
Federal Emergency Management Agency rules and Irma's statewide path created a vast market for the available debris disposal fleet.
County officials estimated the cost of removal at $55 million to $60 million and worried that FEMA would not reimburse the county if it paid more than its current contract rate to hire more trucks.
Contractors, on the other hand, have a lot of options as the demand for hauling was greater than the available disposal fleet. The county contractor, Crowder-Gulf Joint Venture, has put out a call for subcontractors to join its Lee County fleet.
Ellis Etter of south Fort Myers was glad to have the chance to rid his yard of the carefully stacked piles of Irma's leavings that were starting to kill parts of his well-tended lawn.
While he wrestled fallen branches and clippings, from the back of a pickup, he worried about people who live nearby with yards that presented bigger problems.
"It's a great idea, but I don't know about some of my neighbors who have piles that are eight feet tall," he said. "I'm going to help one neighbor bring stuff down but those people who had trees come down — that's going to be tough."
Bob Soderholm, who runs a delivery business, has been using his equipment to haul debris from homes, had been paying a tipping fee to bring waste to an incinerator.
"The county had its hands full," he said. "A lot of this never would made it to the dump."
Contractors hauling debris for residents are required to fill out a county "self-haul" form to certify that the material is from residential property. Commercial debris cannot be brought to the dump-it-yourself facilities.
There is still a lot of horticultural waste piled around the county. Even though nearly 200,000 cubic yards had been hauled away, there is an estimated two-and-three-quarters of a million cubic yards yet to be touched.
The county has created an interactive map to show residents where debris removal crews are working. Debris must be separated by specific categories and placed at curbside to be picked.
Complete rules, waste categories and other advice is available at leegov.com/solidwaste.
For those who prefer not to wait, self-hauling is an option that will bring a bit of normalcy back.
"You work hard to keep your property looking good, and then you have this laying out there," Etter said. "It's just something I'd rather not look at."