Irma topples church steeples in Warner Robins
Q&A with George Brannen
Occupation: Warner Robins Public Works Director
Q: You’ve given a name to the effort to clean up debris from Hurricane Irma—what are you calling it?
A: It’s not official, but I’ve spun it out as Operation Clean Sweep because were taking it a neighborhood at a time.
Q: It’s been five weeks since the storm. When do you expect everything to be cleaned up?
A: We’re saying six to eight weeks now, but I don’t like that. I’m hoping sooner.
Q: Why is it taking so long? We’ve had other storms, tornadoes, that went quicker.
A: With a tornado, the worst damage is along a main path. With Irma, and of course Irma was a tropical storm and not a hurricane when it hit us, but when a storm like that hits, it’s blowing hard over all 39 square miles of the city. It’s not like there was one path with the most damage; it was everywhere. Limbs, trees and whatnot were down all over.
Q: More equal, widespread debris?
A: And this: some people may not have done much yard cleaning for years, but did after Irma. They cleaned up more than Irma debris that went from the yard to the street for pickup.
Q: To be clear, it’s not really your job to collect yard waste and debris from the curb, right?
A: Right. Trans Waste Services Inc. handles that for the city.
Q: Do you have any oversight of Trans Waste?
A: Absolutely not. We have a good relationship with the folks at Trans Waste, and they’re doing their job dealing with the extra. There’s just so much of it. They’re definitely doing the yeoman’s share of all this, and it’s my understanding they’ve been out extra days and really working at it. We’re just upping our efforts to help it get cleanup done.
Q: So what role does the city normally play in collecting trash... of waste placed on the curb?
A: We do pick things up. There are things Trans Waste by contract won’t get, including wood and lumber, shingles, carpet, flooring, toilets, tubs and other things. Tires. Nobody will pick up tires.
Q: So those sorts of things you will pick up? But not tires.
A: Not entirely. Professional contractors, builders, carpenters and such are required to carry off their own debris. There are code violations involved there. What we do is more for individual residents. You or I could change out a toilet, tear out a rug and put a little carpet in. We pick up at that level and some yard waste, but not after a tree contractor has been taking down trees.
Q: So your guys are on routes looking for that sort of thing?
A: No, not that either. We don’t do routes. We come case-by-case as we’re called. It’s specific. You have to call public works and, again, it’s technically not our job but it’s something we do.
A: It makes the city look bad if no one does. It may be attracting mosquitos. It looks like blight. It’s the civic thing to do if needed. Listen, I grew up in Warner Robins and was here when Watson Boulevard stopped at Pleasant Hill. I’m vested. I moved to Perry five years ago, but I’m proud of Warner Robins. I don’t want anywhere to look trashy. And that’s why we have roll-off containers here on Bay Street verified residents can bring some debris to themselves. Like I said, Trans Waste is doing the yeoman’s share in the cleanup, but there’s so much. We’re doing part, too.
Q: As far as the city public works goes, not Trans Waste, what impact is this — Operation Clean Sweep — having on regular workload?
A: Well first, we’ve been blessed we haven’t had any injuries during it. But as for workload, we don’t have the money, so we don’t do overtime. But where we have two grappler trucks with one running every day and one as backup, they’re both out picking up right now. We have at least three flatbed dumps that can hold more material than a rubber-tired backhoe loads, so we’re using all those now. We’ve diverted manpower to this. We just decided to help attack it. On the other hand, a toilet sitting out to get picked up may sit a little longer. We may not replace this pipe in this ditch right now; it may have to wait a little.
Q: Do you have statistics on typical yard waste you normally pick up versus after Irma?
A: Not really, but I’d say if we picked up five to seven tons in 10 days normally, and that’s about right, we’re doing about 30 now.
Q: Where does it go?
A: Normally about 70 percent to Plantation Road, where we have what we call our mulch pit, and about 30 percent comes here to public works on Bay Street. Someone comes and grinds it here. Trans Waste takes some to our mulch pit and some to their own facility.
Q: Have you gotten angry calls over the cleanup?
A: Certainly. We get angry calls every day.
Q: What do you have to say to residents regarding the clean up?
A: My thing would be just please bear with us. We’re doing the best we can and we’re getting there as quick as we can. We have great cooperation in the city and especially during emergencies. During emergencies we say there are two levels of first responders: the blue lights, police, and the red lights, firefighters. We consider ourselves the third level: amber lights. We keep roads open so emergency workers can get through. Point is, when storms first happen you have to get streets open right away so the blues and reds can get through.
Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.