Hurricane Ian debris removal ongoing in Southwest Florida; Lee County has collected 5%

Lee County has collected a little more than 5 percent of the estimated 4 million cubic yards of debris from Hurricane Ian.

The goal is to have as much debris as possible collected within the first 60 days of when Hurricane Ian hit on Sept. 28 so the federal government will pay for it.

“FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) provides 100% reimbursement for collection costs during the first 30 days, and has extended that timeframe to 60 days for this event,” Lee County’s Public Information Office wrote in an email to the USA Today Network.

“We have already collected more than 205,000 cubic yards of the estimated four million cubic yards of debris in unincorporated Lee County.”

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Doug Whitehead, Director of Lee County Solid Waste, said in a video posted to YouTube on Monday that the county’s debris collections already could fill 25 football fields three feet high.

“In addition, together we’ve collected five times as much debris as we did during Hurricane Irma in the same amount of time,” Whitehead added.

The City of Cape Coral reported Wednesday that it collected 91,000 cubic yards and Fort Myers reported 44,000 cubic yards collected Tuesday.

Lee County prioritized areas that had the most extensive damage for debris removal – as long as it didn’t interfere with any search and rescue teams.

Now that the search and rescue phase is completed, Lee County has deployed collection trucks to hard-hit areas where residents may have more debris than is able to fit along the curb.

Removed so far: 205,000 cubic yards

How much is that? 25 football fields three feet high

How much is out there? 4 million cubic yards

“I figure they’ll pick it up sooner or later,” Cape Coral resident Denise Stanton, who has a pile of yard waste and another of solid debris waiting to get picked up. “They’re probably starting at one end of the city and working their way. We’ll have to wait like we did (Hurricane) Charlie (in 2004). I think then it was a couple of weeks.”

“Collection trucks are deployed as soon as possible to perform a first pass so that residents have room to get additional debris to the curb,” the email stated. “(The) third priority is areas with less damage that will only require one pass. That allows those areas to quickly return to pre-storm conditions.”

Debris contractors and where to drop off debris

Florida counties are required by FEMA to have disaster debris contractors on record prior to any storm event.

Lee County uses CrowderGulf and Thompson Consulting Services to haul debris and said those companies are adding additional vehicles daily. Those companies are able to pivot to different sites if needed.

The county also has four public debris drop-off sites in the county where residents can bring both yard waste and items such as drywall and roof shingles.

“(We) organized a little pickup for whoever needed help,” Conover said. “Three-quarters of (the neighborhood) is older, retired. Older than us, let’s put it that way. We’re just trying to clean our neighborhood the best we can.

“We have minimal damage where we live. We’re above water, so it would be forever (before it got picked up).”

Debris ranges from yard waste to appliances and drywall

Many homes in Lee County have everything from tree limbs and yard waste to destroyed appliances, furniture, mattresses and drywall piled in front. At a handful of homes, the pile of debris waiting to be hauled away covers the width of the home and goes all the way up the driveway to the house.

On some side roads, the debris is piled so high and wide that it’s too narrow for more than one car to drive through at a time.

Lee County said structural and vegetative debris are being handled separately once it is collected. Large items will be disposed of in lined landfills in regional landfills. Vegetative debris will be ground and sold.

Collier has removed 130,100 cubic yards of debris

As of Monday, Collier County has removed 130,100 cubic yards of debris, according to Evelyn Longa, the public information officer for Collier County Public Utilities. Longa said that's 2,718 loads from 142 hauling units.

Collier County’s Board of Commissioners unanimously voted Tuesday to approve a $95 million budget amendment to help cover the cost of debris removal as well other things such as the stormwater and wastewater system in the county.

Lee County did not immediately respond to a question of how much it expected debris removal will cost.

This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: Lee County works to clean up garbage, debris after Hurricane Ian