Hurricane Harvey debris removal in Hitchcock has resumed after a weekslong lapse.
The Texas Department of Transportation this week began picking up storm debris in the city, ending a search for a new contractor to remove byproducts of Hurricane Harvey’s destruction, Hitchcock officials said.
“It’s really a godsend,” Police Chief John Hamm said.
Before the state agency stepped in, Hitchcock residents complained of debris still lining neighborhood streets in large piles, emitting an odor after weeks of being left out in the sun and rain.
“My street is terrible,” resident Willie Windham said. “It’s stacked a mile high. We’re not unique; it’s all over town that way.”
Parts of city of Hitchcock, just north of Galveston Bay and west of Interstate 45, were hit hard by the storm, which made landfall Aug. 25 in Rockport, 200 miles south of the county, and moved up the Texas coast. The hurricane dropped trillions of gallons of rain over several days, overflowing rivers and banks and flooding thousands of homes around the region.
Debris removal became an immediate concern for cities when the cleanup began; but Hitchcock, with a population of about 7,800 people, didn’t have a contract on hand, officials said. Hitchcock City Hall also sustained heavy damage during the storm.
The city in early September signed an emergency contract with a debris removal company, and that lasted for 30 days, Hamm said. After that, the city had to rebid for debris removal contractors, which caused the lapse in service, he said.
Hamm said debris removal companies, in high demand after Harvey, were hard to find. The storm inflicted mass devastating flooding across the region. Then came Hurricane Irma, which hit the Florida Keys on Sept. 10, less than two weeks after Hurricane Harvey occurred.
“Successfully negotiating a contract is difficult,” Hamm said. “There’s just not a lot out there because the entire Gulf Coast is affected.”
The state notified the city Monday that it would assist in debris removal efforts, Hamm said. Texas Department of Transportation officials confirmed that the agency would bring in at least 12 trucks.
The city’s contract with the state stipulates the state would pay for the services and that Hitchcock would pay for fees landfills charge for dumping debris there, Hamm said.
Several other cities in the county are meanwhile completing debris removal. Friendswood and Dickinson began their last passes of debris removal in late October. Both of those cities had contracts lined up before the storm hit.
Hamm rejected the idea that not having a debris removal contract before Harvey slowed down the process, and said that dealing with government guidelines was a bigger factor.
“That’s suggestive at best,” Hamm said. “Even if other cities were to have that in process, they wouldn’t have started the following day and they would have to succumb under the same guidelines.”
Hamm said the city needs to make sure all rules are precisely met before being reimbursed by the federal government, which is supposed to cover 90 percent of debris removal costs.
Complying with state and federal guidelines was the most frustrating aspect of the situation, Mayor Anthony Matranga said.
“I’m getting frustrated, too, because we’re having to do all of the waiting because of the state and FEMA,” Matranga said. “It could be done easier.”
The waiting hasn’t been frustrating just for the city. Hitchcock resident Angie Butler said she’s concerned about the mold that’s growing in the debris piles, especially because her son has severe allergies and asthma.
“We’ve all been patient,” Butler said. “We knew it was going to take long, so we didn’t say much. Two months later, they still haven’t picked up.”
“The debris is insane,” Butler said.
Nothing could have been done to speed up the debris removal, Hamm said.
“I wouldn’t blame anyone; it’s part of the process,” Hamm said.
Since the state stepped in, however, the city expects to move much faster, Hamm said. City officials hope that debris cleanup can be completed in three weeks, he said.
“I don’t believe that the state is coming in and saving a drowning Hitchcock,” Hamm said. “I do believe the governor has extended his office graciously to come in here. The manpower that the government wields is awesome.”