From: Diana Moskovitz and Phil Long, Miami Herald
Published November 7, 2005 12:00 AM

Trash Haulers Move Mountains, Yet More To Go

That mountainous mess of Wilma debris filling your front yard and killing your grass is not going to vanish overnight.


Think more like New Year's night -- perhaps later.


It may be 2006 before all the trash from Wilma is gone from South Florida, waste-management officials in Miami-Dade and Broward counties say.


When it's gone, state, federal and local officials will be dividing up a removal bill that could hit $500 million, based on early estimates.


The good news is that workers from Deerfield Beach to Florida City are already busy whittling away at the growing piles of roadside rubble, and more crews are being added daily.


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Joe Ruiz, Miami-Dade assistant county manager, figures cleanup crews will be done with their first pass down streets in the unincorporated areas by Thanksgiving, and the second pass will be finished by Christmas.


In Broward, gathering all the trash will probably take through December, said Odette Brown, spokeswoman for the county's Waste and Recycling Services.


"We're busy. Really, really busy," Brown said.


Hurricane Wilma's winds left behind about four times the debris Katrina did -- more than 18 million cubic yards.


That's enough palm fronds, oak branches, ficus trees and other assorted junk to fill Dolphins Stadium to the brim -- nosebleed seats and all -- plus another nine stadiums the same size, said Dr. David Bloomquist, an engineer at the University of Florida.


That kind of trash is easiest to handle, officials say, when residents separate the piles of vegetation from man-made trash.


On Hialeah's northwest side this week, Dixie Gamble arrived home as city worker Jose Luis Gomez and his nine-blade front-end scoop finished attacking a six-foot-high pile.


The cleanup took care of one problem that has made living without power worse, she said. "The night is very dark here and with the piles you feel so closed in."


The removal process is much the same throughout South Florida. Government crews, private contractors or a combination of both are hitting the critical and most heavily traveled roads first, then getting roads around schools, hospitals and other essential facilities cleared. Virtually all of that has been done and workers have turned their efforts to residential streets.


A typical crew operates from first light until dusk and is made up of some type of mechanical front-end loader with a special scoop, and sometimes up to three transfer trucks to keep the scoop busy.


In most cases, the first stop for the debris is a makeshift transfer site. There, workers toss out the metal and concrete and as much construction junk as possible, then throw the vegetation into high-powered "hammermills." These grinders spit out a steady stream of mulch, which is scooped up and packed into trucks. Some goes to landfills, though much is burned as fuel in small electric power plants.


Susan Heiden's neighborhood in western Dania Beach has its roads cleared, but piles of debris are stacking up in front of homes. Heiden said she can't wait for crews to finally get to her neighborhood and clear it.


"It's more than just piles. It's like foothills," she said. "It's really something."


Even after the first sweep on many streets, more debris will still find its way to the curbside as residents keep finding more to clear, said Paul Winkeljohn, assistant city manager in Weston.


"The problem is you get through one pass, and debris is still coming out," Winkeljohn said. So the question is whether to do another pass.


The Federal Emergency Management Agency generally pays 75 percent of the cost of debris cleanup, with the state paying 12.5 percent and local governments the remaining 12.5 percent.


With nearly a third of residents in Florida living in gated communities, some with private roads, there is some tension over whether FEMA will reimburse local governments that pick up debris inside the gates.


Local governments got a bit of hope this year from a FEMA memo outlining guidance for reimbursing debris pickup from gated communities and private roads. It said removing debris from them could be eligible for reimbursement if the garbage is considered a safety threat and the local government has the legal responsibility to protect the area.


The memo outlined several requirements, among them that debris be placed in the street or right of way, that there be unrestricted access to the debris by removal crews, and that the road be used for regular public services like school buses and mail delivery.


Herald staff writer Wanda J. DeMarzo contributed to this report.


Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News


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