Baldwin residents ask, “What will happen with all this debris?”

By Jessica Vaughn
Posted 10/16/20

All over Baldwin County, you can see FEMA debris management sites popping up. These sites, characterized by the mountains of debris and large trucks driving to and from the location, are the first …

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Baldwin residents ask, “What will happen with all this debris?”

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All over Baldwin County, you can see FEMA debris management sites popping up. These sites, characterized by the mountains of debris and large trucks driving to and from the location, are the first stop for debris left behind by Hurricane Sally after being picked up from along the streets.

In Foley, the site is located at Barin Field. As of Oct. 9, there were 50 trucks in operation in Foley, and after 6,079 truckloads, 355,991 cubic yards of debris had been removed. In Orange Beach, the debris management site is near The Wharf, and as of Oct. 9 the city’s debris contractor CrowderGulf had hauled 297,500 cubic yards of debris, or approximately 13,500 dump truck loads’ worth. Of that, 17,000 cubic yards was marine debris, 19,500 cubic yards was debris from the Backcountry Trail, and 1,150 cubic yards is white goods debris. Gulf Shores has a site adjacent to Jack Edwards National Airport, with an estimated cost of debris removal nearly $6 million. Officials there estimate around 300,000 cubic yards of vegetative debris will be disposed of.

Traveling north, Summerdale has a site on Doc McDuffie Road, near their debris removal contractor GreenCo. Elberta and Magnolia Springs are also using GreenCo for their debris removal. Robertsdale has leased property on Wilters Street near the Wastewater Treatment Plant for its debris removal site, while Silverhill is taking their debris to Corn Branch, located off of County Road 55. The town is also authorized to take debris to the Doc McDuffie Road location, but only in the event that they are unable to use the Corn Branch location, and their final disposal location is on Hubbard Road. The Town of Loxley is also utilizing the Corn Branch site. Bay Minette’s debris is being taken to the D’Olive Road Pit.

Over on the Eastern Shore, as of Oct. 12 the City of Fairhope’s contractors have collected over 131,000 cubic yards of debris, with approximately 250,000 cubic yards remaining. An estimated 10,000 cubic yards is collected per day, with 33 units working up to 12 hours per day. The city has a debris distribution site at the Childress property on County Road 34, east of County Road 13. Debris picked up in Daphne is taken to the city landfill site on Tallent Lane.

As of Oct. 7, Baldwin County debris cleanup was at 534,418 cubic yards collected, with approximately 2,000,000 cubic yards remaining, coming to 11,055 total loads.

But the questions still remain. Why these sites? What happens once the debris reaches the sites? Are the municipalities planning to do anything with the debris?

“FEMA sets up guidelines for each city, and you follow those guidelines,” said Foley Mayor-elect Ralph Hellmich. Step one is to put out bids to contract a construction company that meets FEMA’s guidelines to pick up the debris within the city. Next is to designate the site where the debris will be taken. At Foley’s Barin Field location, three large grinding machines have been set up. Once it arrives and is measured, the debris is then dropped into the machines and ground into chips.

“It makes a big pile that looks like a giant sawdust pile, and it reduces the debris,” Hellmich said. “That’s what FEMA wants. Then you take that reduced amount to the Baldwin County landfill.”

FEMA’s guidelines include not allowing the crews onto private property, meaning they can only retrieve debris that they can reach from the road. Currently, only select municipalities are collecting multiple types of debris, with many focusing first on vegetative debris. Debris must be sorted into six different pile types to be picked up by crews: electronics, large appliances, hazardous waste, vegetative, construction, and household garbage.

Along with the trucks collecting debris, many have noticed a third party standing back with a tablet, watching as the debris is picked up. This is a monitor, paid for by FEMA, who is monitoring the trucks’ activity. Monitors watch for the type of debris being collected while keeping records of the amount of debris picked up. These records will come in handy later when municipalities send off the data to FEMA in order to get reimbursed for city funds spent during the cleanup.

So why is all the debris being reduced and taken to the landfill?

“Some people has asked why we don’t do something with all that debris, give it away,” said Hellmich. “Well, a lot of people don’t want it because it has everything mixed in it. You might get some mulch for your yard, but the next thing you know you’ve got a whole grove of popcorn trees growing, or even poison ivy. You don’t know what all’s in there.”

For more information on FEMA operations, check out https://www.fema.gov/. Contact your municipality for more information on how debris collection is being handled in your area.