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Heavy demand for debris removal is causing delays

By JOHN WAYNE FERGUSON The Daily News ​ ​ ​


Trucks come in. They drop off a load of debris. Then they leave.

As routines go, it’s pretty simple.

It’s also one that’s expected to be repeated for months at the debris management site on Hughes Road in Dickinson, where debris from thousands of flooded homes and buildings is taken to be crushed and recorded before reaching local landfills.

“To not overwhelm the landfill where it’s going, we’ll try to crush it up as much as we can with these big jaws,” said Clayton Young, the field supervisor for debris removal company CrowderGulf. ”We’ll break it down more and then take it over to the landfill.”

CrowderGulf is the major debris removal contractor that has deployed in Galveston County and across much of Texas and the southeast United States after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

The company expects to pick up between 750,000 and 1 million cubic yards of debris in Dickinson alone as a result of Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall on Aug. 25 near Rockport. Over the next five days, the storm dropped nearly 50 inches of rain on parts of Galveston County, causing widespread flooding, damaging thousands of houses and buildings.

By Thursday, the company had picked up about 40,000 cubic yards of debris, Young said. It’s picked up 100 yards at a time.

The company does not supply all of the machines that are picking up debris around the county. It hires subcontractors that are paid according to the amount of debris taken to the management site. Some of the contractors, who drive specialized trucks outfitted with articulated crane arms called “knuckle booms,” travel from disaster zone to disaster zone, Young said.

When there are no disasters to be cleaned up, the subcontractors may work in Canada and the northern United State as loggers, Young said

“We swell to hundreds of employees doing this,” Young said. “That’s from the managers, to the drivers, to the ground guys, the safety guys. There’s tons of people.”

It’s not immediately clear how much money there is in debris removal, and how much of the bill will have to be footed by local governments. CrowderGulf’s contract with Galveston County outlines payments based on the type of debris that will be moved, how far it is moved and how much of it there is — without putting a cap on a total payment number.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, through a presidential proclamation, has agreed to pay 90 percent of debris removal costs. Generally, such cost shares decrease over time, with the federal government picking up less of the costs.

Dickinson Mayor Julie Masters said her city, the mostly widely damaged community in the county, expected to pay $11 million for debris cleanup.

Clearing all of the debris will take some time, and it’s possible that people could have debris sitting near their houses for months. The company will make multiple passes through each street, Young said, but a second pass will only come after each street has had its first.

The lengthy process is causing some city leaders to ask for patience from residents. In a Facebook post on Friday, Friendswood Mayor Kevin Holland attempted to explain why there weren’t more trucks seen around that city, which also was hit hard by the storm.

“Many of those big trucks with the claws to pick up debris are based in Florida,” Holland said. “Our city’s contracts can’t force them to come here, so they are working where they are. We have ‘our share’ of trucks and every day, city staff is trying to get more to come here.”

The debris removal industry is strained because of the multiple disasters around the country, Young said.

“Normally, we are able to bring in a ton of these trucks, and knock this stuff out in a pretty small amount of time,” he said. “But there’s only so many of these trucks in the country.”

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