December 10, 2017 4:00 p.m.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma (September 10), the most common damage throughout the City and on Amelia Island was tree or other vegetative debris. Roads were littered with limbs and leaves and yards were torn by uprooted trees. Similar and very extensive damage had occurred throughout the state.
A subsequent problem that developed was the shortage of personnel and equipment to deal with the debris. Remember, Hurricane Harvey had ravaged the southern Texas coast and Houston only six weeks earlier. The response to that storm consumed a huge amount of resources, straining the availability of those resources when Hurricane Irma impacted the length of Florida.
Communities throughout Florida were faced with the challenge of clearing debris and restoring services. Several communities, including Fernandina Beach, were told by contractors that the resources agreed to in previously signed agreements were not available due to the demand elsewhere: with millions of tons of debris required to be removed and communities bidding against each other for those resources, subcontractors were going elsewhere. Unless, of course, those communities were interested in paying a higher than agreed to price to secure additional personnel and equipment (which drew the attention of the State Attorney General).
City staff rejected that “suggestion,” and instead began to utilize internal resources to clear debris. Additionally, through the efforts of Mr. Jeremiah Glisson, Fleet and Facilities Director, the City obtained a grapple truck (snagging it in the nick of time before other communities) to aid in the clean-up. Streets Maintenance Director Rex Lester managed his crews over long days over long weeks to get things back to normal. It was a great performance by those crews. The City collected 48,000 cubic yards of debris (the County, to date, has collected nearly 210,000 cubic yards).
It has been three months since Hurricane Irma, and despite those clean-up efforts, large amounts of storm debris remain in some areas. What is the clean-up status of those piles?
It is imperative to note that Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reimbursement regulations stipulate that debris removal reimbursement is limited to government and residential properties. Commercial properties and apartment complexes are responsible for clearing debris on those properties. It is on those properties that most of the debris remains.
Nassau County officials (twice this week) have supplied press releases specifically describing this final phase of debris removal. The press releases specifically repeat that FEMA restrictions do not allow retained debris removal contractors to remove debris from commercial properties and apartment complexes. Property owners (including commercial property owners) may utilize free debris collection sites established by the County: one at the Bailey Road Maintenance Yard; the other, the Hilliard Maintenance Yard. Contractors cannot utilize these sites, only property owners with proof of residency. Please note that these free sites will be closing permanently at 5:00 PM on Monday, December 11.
County and City officials, from the start of storm recovery efforts, have made it known that commercial properties and apartment complexes were not to be part of the County’s and City’s FEMA effort. I am not aware of why commercial property owners have failed to clear (and in some apparent instances, allow more to accumulate) storm debris three months after the storm.
The failure to clear debris has raised concerns among many City residents. The debris offers haven to small animals and snakes. Piles block sidewalks and require pedestrians to walk in the roadway, exposing them to vehicular traffic. The City Commission has inquired of both me and the City Attorney as to what recourse the City has to address the failure to remove debris. That issue will be reviewed and the City Commission will be advised of the direction that staff intends to take.
This is a plea to commercial property owners that have debris remaining on their property. This weekend is the final weekend of access to the County’s free collection sites. I recommend that commercial property owners take full advantage of that access; otherwise, it is likely that the cost of disposal at a landfill will be substantially higher (and even moreso if it is determined that the City and/or County can levy fines for failure to remove the debris). Please see the appropriate notices in local media.
Thank you for your cooperation.