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How long will it take crews to pick up all that Irma debris?

‘I am in shock’ after Irma damage to historic neighborhood

Tropical Storm Irma pummeled the historic Shirley Hills neighborhood of northeast Macon, shocking a neighbor who grew up in Florida. Dozens of tall trees and pines crashed through power lines and snapped poles Sept. 11, 2017.
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Tropical Storm Irma pummeled the historic Shirley Hills neighborhood of northeast Macon, shocking a neighbor who grew up in Florida. Dozens of tall trees and pines crashed through power lines and snapped poles Sept. 11, 2017.

With another storm threatening Middle Georgia, work crews are still trying to catch up on debris removal from Tropical Storm Irma more than three weeks ago.

In Houston County, crews have been working extra hours to pick up limbs from the storm, but due to the volume, they still haven’t reached every home. In Macon-Bibb County, the cleanup efforts should kick into high gear next week.

Houston County Commission Chairman Tommy Stalnaker said it doesn’t take long for trucks picking up limbs to fill up.

“Where you used to pick up a street, now you are picking up a house, maybe two houses before you are loaded and have to go dispose of that and come back and start over,” he said. “It’s very, very time consuming with the massive amounts of debris that are piled up.”

Public works crews have joined with Advanced Disposal, the county’s waste contractor, in picking up the debris.

Jordan Scott, general manager of Advanced Disposal, told commissioners this week that the county has been divided into four zones for the pickups. They are moving through each zone to make sure that everyone gets a pickup before workers go back and start over with a second pickup. So if a homeowner has already gotten a pickup after the storm, it could be weeks before workers return for a second pickup.

Crews aren’t skipping over large volumes of debris left for pickup in order to get smaller ones, he said. It’s all being collected as crews go through neighborhoods.

It could be the end of October before all residents served by Advanced Disposal have gotten a yard waste pickup.

George Brannen, the Warner Robins director of public works, said city crews are also working with the waste contractor on storm debris pickup. The city’s contractor, Trans Waste Services, is working extra hours, but the city does not have the funding for overtime for its employees.

Homeowners who have put out certain items, such as old furniture, for pickup may also be seeing delays, Brannen said. Some of those items, due to the size, are not covered in the Trans Waste contract, so public works employees are collected them. But right now the public works crews are focusing on limb pickups, so that’s why people may not be getting furniture and other large waste items picked up.

He expects the city will be caught up on pickups in two to three weeks. But that’s assuming there is no significant new damage from another storm.

In Macon-Bibb County, the pace on collecting Irma debris from curbs will probably pick up sometime next week.

The county is contracting with a vendor to have the larger piles of debris (cut to 4 feet or less) removed, while Macon-Bibb crews continue to pick up smaller piles of yard waste.

The county has to follow certain procedures in order to be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Early estimates are that the debris removal could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars — perhaps a half-million or more.

The county is taking some of its yard waste to sites in Warner Robins and Twiggs County. And for the Irma debris removal, Macon-Bibb has set up four temporary storage sites. The county is waiting on approval from the state’s Environmental Protection Division to begin disposing of the tree trunks, branches and limbs.

Over the last two weeks, the county’s Solid Waste Department removed an estimated 520 tons of debris.

“The good thing is our residents have responded to us,” the department’s director, Kevin Barkley, said this week. “They have put out the debris, containerized it, cut it up, and they are putting it out there. The problem we’re seeing now is it’s getting bigger than 2 cubic yards.

“So the bigger debris is going to have to go to the designated resource areas we have for storage and collection, to have it finally disposed of and ground up by the contractor.”

Wayne Crenshaw: 478-256-9725, @WayneCrenshaw1

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