Dealing with disaster

Features - Cover Profile

Demolition contractors, haulers and processors in hurricane-affected areas share how they weathered the storms and their aftermath.

Subscribe
November 7, 2017
Kristin Smith-Ely
© RoschetzkyIstockPhoto | iStockPhoto.com

The 2017 hurricane season can be described as anything but calm. Several devastating storms with heavy rains and damaging winds barreled down on the Caribbean, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Gulf Coast from August to October. Luckily many haulers, recyclers and demolition contractors, no stranger to hurricanes, had a game plan in place and are prepared for the months of cleanup and demolition that lie ahead.

Demolition contractors familiar with natural disasters such as Houston-based Cherry Cos., had an emergency preparedness plans in place about five days ahead of when Hurricane Harvey was expected to make landfall in the area. That included preparing for high wind potential and high water.

The company prepared its aggregate plants in the area by lowering stackers, making sure silos were strapped in place and moving equipment to higher ground.

At the plants and on its various demolition projects that were in process, “You don’t leave any blowing debris out,” Leonard Cherry, Cherry Cos. president, says.

On the demolition projects that were in various stages, Cherry adds, “You get them to a certain point and then you cease work. You simply have to stop. The last thing you want to do is to leave potential projectiles due to high winds.”

Cherry says everyone has emergency phone numbers, secondary operational plans for electrical service and water supplies and back-up fuel supplies. “So it’s a very extensive process that we have to go through that is simply magnified by the size of the operation that you run.”

RECORD RAINFALL

When Harvey did hit, it dumped an estimated 40 inches of rain in a short period of time, from around Aug. 25-29, 2017. As Cherry describes it, “What we ended up with was a water event much more so than a wind event. As everyone is aware, we received record rainfalls, so unfortunately a lot of structures had significant flood issues this time.”

Cherry estimates that about 7.5 percent of the company’s work force or about 28 employees were displaced from the storm due to major flooding, while everyone was impacted by loss of work due to water and power issues from the flooding that made working impossible.

Even if someone wasn’t directly affected, everybody knows somebody whether an immediate or distant relative or friend and a number of families were doubling up.

“You provide assistance at a time like this in any way you can,” says Cherry. “We call this three weeks post the flood event our new normal. Everyone is adjusting to relocating workplaces, readjusted home life and, in some cases, different business hours as needed.”

BOON FOR BUSINESS

In Cherry’s observation, the impact of the storm on general business has been less significant than the impact to the residential side. But, he says, those businesses that were affected were impacted severely.

Cherry Cos. received minor flooding at one of its office facilities, but five of its active mining operations were flooded. Cherry says the company has been venously pumping water. “Of those five locations they are in varying degrees of operation, some are operating at 100 percent and is still shut down. We are probably operationally three weeks post hurricane, currently running at about 90 percent,” he says.

Meanwhile, Cherry has seen demand for some services and materials spike in the wake of the hurricane. The company is quoting a lot of demolition work, but Cherry says, many folks need quotes for insurance purposes. “The vast majority we don’t expect will actually convert to work,” he says.

The aggregate side of Cherry’s business experienced an upswing immediately following the storm as washed-out roads and dams needed immediate repair. Between 700 and 800 tons of Cherry’s recycled 1½-inch flex base was used to shore up a levee in Fort Bend County, Texas. Cherry stayed open late until the county had enough of the material to secure the levee.

Emergency repairs are wrapping up and the next step for Cherry Cos., is dealing with the cleanup. “That work will probably continue on for the next 120 days,” says Cherry. “There are folks all over the U.S. assisting in the cleanup effort. It will probably take about four months before this is all done and behind us.”

TAKING A PASS

As of Oct. 11, the city of Houston said more than 1 million cubic yards of Hurricane Harvey debris had been removed from the city limits.

According to the city, the initial pass of collection, which began Aug. 30, has “provided debris removal service to homeowners who were immediately available to return to their homes and begin removal of flooded furniture, appliances, carpet and sheetrock. Additional passes will collect additional material, such as materials from those homeowners who have already began work; homes that were untouched during the first pass; material generated due to leaking roofs or damaged outdoor property improvements (fencing); and green waste generated by fallen/broken trees or vegetation.”

The second citywide pass is expected to take up to 60 days to complete and end by Dec. 1, 2017. Second pass collection will move at a slower pace than the initial pass due to the inconsistency of impacted residents in starting and completing their property remediation, according to the city.

Other parts of Texas and Louisiana were not immune to Harvey’s devastation. In more rural areas, such as Rockport, Texas, in Arnasas County where the storm made landfall, a reader contacted Construction & Demolition Recycling, asking for us to get the word out that the area does not have the number of contractors needed to help everyone affected. “The town needs help demolishing what is left of the houses and to rebuild,” the reader says in an email.

On the city of Rockport’s website, it says all contractors are required to register with the city and it was requiring permit applications to be done in-person. “As a result of the high volume of traffic we have been experiencing post-Harvey, we have been unable to process both emailed and faxed permits in a timely manner. Therefore, all permits must be applied for in person until further notice,” the site states.

As Texas and Louisiana were still dealing with Hurricane Harvey, another hurricane was right at its heels. If Harvey is going to be remembered as one of the most severe rain events ever recorded in U.S. history, then Hurricane Irma will be remembered for its fierce winds.

BRACING FOR IRMA

After wreaking havoc on the Caribbean for several days and prompting the largest evacuation in Florida history, Irma reportedly made its first entrance in the U.S. states in Cudjoe Key, Florida, on Sept. 10, with maximum sustained winds of 130 mile per hour (mph). Some of the hardest hit areas included Marco Island where maximum sustained winds of 115 mph were recorded and Naples, Florida, where gusts of up to 142 mph were reportedly experienced at its height.

Rich Lorenz, president and CEO of Central Environmental Services Inc., a full-service demolition contractor, even got a taste Irma’s strength in Orlando, Florida. The last strong hurricane that came through his neck of the woods was Hurricane Matthew in 2007. That storm produced winds at his home of around 60 mph, he recalls, where Irma’s winds measured over 90 mph at his rural home. And as the storm billowed through over the course of a couple of days, it took out power to millions of Floridians.

“It was a mess. There was no electricity, no fuel, no water for a week,” Lorenz says. Luckily for Lorenz, he had a generator and ice maker and he was able to help out his neighbors. “It brings us together as human beings because no one person is hurt, everyone is.”

WILD WINDS

Lorenz says the city of Orlando and Orange County put a moratorium on demolition 10 days prior to when the hurricane was expected to hit. “We had to hurry up and get these wrecks down, at least down to the slab,” he says. “Eighty-five- to 90-mile-per-hour-winds would take two-by-fours and throw them all over the place.”

He says crews were able to get the work done in time, but adds, “We lost a tremendous amount of money. We’ve been out of work for two weeks.”

As of late September, he says, “We just got through step one. The second stage will come after appraisers and insurance adjusters start getting out.” At the time of the interview, he says, “They say they are 15 days out. Once they start assessing, then demolition will begin.”

But the pressing issue at the time was vegetative debris. “What’s happening now, every roadway, on the side of the roads are just piled high with branches– 6-, 8- 10- 12-foot piles, tons and tons of wood waste,” Lorenz says.

According to Lorenz, the Florida Keys and parts to the south fared far worse than Orlando. “South Florida took a real hard hit—a little bit harder than we did because it lightened up a little bit as it moved up through the state.”

© Mike Kuhlman | Dreamstime

DEBRIS MANAGEMENT

In Palm Beach County, Florida, and other counties, the cleanup of all that debris has taken a methodical approach. Palm Beach County set up nine temporary debris management sites just for the vegetative debris, which amounts to 3 million cubic yards, according to Willie Puz, public affairs and recycling, for the Solid Waste Authority (SWA) of Palm Beach County.

“We are hoping to have it all picked up within a three-month span,” he says. He notes it has been about 10 to 12 years since the area had a storm of such magnitude. Hurricanes Francis and Jeanne in 2004 produced about 4.5 million cubic yards of vegetative debris, which took about six months to remove. Hurricane Wilma in 2005 produced a similar amount of debris to Irma, and that took four and a half months to clean up, according to Puz.

The county has contracts with six different emergency debris contractors. Three are within the county and the others are outside of the county that have hired subcontractors within the county. They are monitoring debris management sites and monitoring trucks picking up the debris. Puz says initially more than 400 trucks were hauling debris to the sites. The county was at around 235 trucks operating as of late September and had not yet begun handling the construction and demolition (C&D) debris.

The SWA asked residents to put their waste from the storm in three different piles. The first pile was garbage because of all the spoiled food from the power outages. “That’s why we got garbage collection up and running right away,” he says.

The second pile is vegetation. Puz says, “That can be mulched and processed. It doesn’t have to be sorted. Right now what we are doing is only collecting vegetation.”

The third pile is construction storm debris, which Puz describes as a mixed C&D pile that could include anything from concrete, two-by-fours, shingles, sheds from the backyard and other vegetation.

“Each of those were picked up at different times. The garbage right away, the vegetation a couple of days later, and [we will] process that first, and C&D will be after that,” Puz says. He expects the C&D debris to all be picked up within the three month window.

“We are aiming for the first pass of vegetation pickup throughout the county within six weeks,” Puz says.

SWA Palm Beach County provides a “Daily Debris Collection Report” on its website at www.swa.org. Among the information the reports show are collection statistics, personnel and equipment detail, description of daily activities and right of way (ROW) debris statistics.

For example, its Oct. 16, 2017, report showed that it had that day collected 1,408 loads or 52,303 cubic yards of vegetative debris and 16 loads or 575 cubic yards of C&D debris. As of that date it also noted a total of 6,632 loads and 240,177 cubic yards of total debris received at a ROW debris management site and final landfill disposal site.

Puz says every county in Florida is supposed to have a state-approved debris management plan. He said SWA’s facilities did not sustain much damage, which allowed the authority to react in rapid fashion. “Once go time came we were ready to move quickly and efficiently,” he says.

NEXT STEPS

As the debris collection stages across Florida move into disposal and processing, Houston-based Waste Management (WM) is one company positioned to provide disposal options for those materials.

Dawn McCormick, WM’s Florida media contact notes of Irma, “Primarily it generated a lot of vegetation and vegetative storm debris—obviously that is treated separately from C&D debris—with the exception of Southwest Florida, the Naples area and of course the Keys. Right now most of that material still has not been collected from the storm debris independent contractors.

“What we are right now geared up for mostly is the vegetative waste,” McCormick says. The vegetative waste will be mulched and air curtain incinerated or landfilled where there are landfill-gas-to-energy opportunities, she says.

As for the C&D debris, so far, she says, “We are not yet seeing a lot of the C&D coming in.” She says two companies in particular are handling the majority of the vegetative and C&D debris clearing: AshBritt Environmental, Deerfield Beach, Florida; and Crowder Gulf, Theodore, Alabama.

Some of that debris will likely be making its way to WM facilities in the coming weeks and months. “We at Waste Management have options for disposal,” McCormick says. “We have a C&D landfill in Homestead and C&D recycling capabilities as well, but as of yet we are not seeing large volumes of any of that material coming to our sites.”

One thing is certain for haulers, recyclers and demolition companies dealing with the effects of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma to their communities—the work is far from over.

The author is editor of Construction & Demolition Recycling and can be reached at ksmith@gie.net.