In an effort to prepare for any potential hurricanes that could strike the coast this season, the Liberty County Emergency Management Agency already has its post-storm debris-cleanup plan in place.
County EMA Director Mike Hodges said an increasing number of communities in the United States will face cleaning up and removing debris after a major storm. He said nearly half of the U.S. population now lives on a coast, and that figure will continue to rise.
“People like coastal living, with the exception of bad weather,” he said. “Now, when you move that many people that close to the coast, you compound the problem of ‘how do we get back in business?’”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association estimated that in 2010, 123.3 million people, or 39 percent of the nation’s population, lived in counties directly on the shoreline.
“From 1970 to 2010, the population of these counties increased by almost 40 percent and are projected to increase by an additional 10 million people, or 8 percent, by 2020,” the NOAA website states. “Coastal areas are substantially more crowded than the U.S. as a whole, and population density in coastal areas will continue to increase in the future. In fact, the population density of coastal shoreline counties is over six times greater than the corresponding inland counties.”
Liberty County has a population of 61,610, according to the county website, and a total area of 603 square miles.
The Liberty County Board of Commissioners, during a regular meeting July 18, authorized Hodges to contract with two companies for storm-debris cleanup and removal. The county’s primary contractor for debris cleanup services is Crowder Gulf of Theodore, Ala., while CERES Environmental, based in Sarasota, Fla., is the secondary, or “backup,” contractor.
“This is a ‘no-dollar’ contract,” Hodges said. “We don’t owe these people anything unless something happens and it qualifies to call them.”
Hodges said contracting with two companies is for the county’s benefit. In the event a hurricane hits several areas hard along the coast and Crowder Gulf cannot immediately respond to Liberty County, the county would call CERES, he said.
These companies remove green debris — vegetation such as tree limbs, stumps and bushes — hazardous waste and animal carcasses. Debris cleanup companies also collect and dispose of white goods, such as refrigerators, freezers and stoves, Hodges explained.
Hodges said the county’s hurricane-preparedness plan is based on the U.S. Corps of Engineers’ model. This model takes into account the massive amount of peak summer foliage Liberty County would need to have removed and disposed of should the area take a direct hit from a Category 3 hurricane, he said.
Hodges estimated that as much as 1 million cubic yards of green debris could be left strewn across the county should a major storm strike.
In addition to removing storm debris, Crowder Gulf or CERES would be responsible for reducing the green debris after it is collected and hauled off for disposal, the EMA director said.
Hodges said there are two options for reducing green debris; one is to grind the material into mulch and the other is to burn it. He said the burning of disaster debris has its critics, as there are those who worry large-scale burning of green debris can impact air quality. Hodges countered that an overwhelming abundance of mulch could be left after grinding mountains of green debris following a major storm, making it impossible for authorities to that take much mulch away.
“It (green debris) is burned hot and quick and leaves relatively little ash to haul,” he said.
The ash then would be taken to an approved landfill. Hodges said burning should reduce 98 percent of green debris.
Hodges explained that burning is conducted in a large depression in the ground inside of a semi-truck-like container, and the deep hole is lined with a heavy-duty lining to prevent seepage.
As for white goods, the appliance doors are detached and motors and Freon gases removed before disposal, he said.
The EMA director said the plan also includes recycling, so that whatever can be salvaged or sold will be.
Hodges said debris cleanup takes time, and therefore some disaster debris might have to be stored until it can be properly disposed. The county must first designate sites where debris can be safely disposed, and then the sites must be permitted by federal, state and local authorities, according to Hodges.
Hodges and EMA Deputy Director Larry Logan said the county has three proposed storm-debris removal sites in mind: two on the eastern side of the county and one in the Gum Branch area.
Logan and Hodges said large manufacturers in the county, like Chemtall and Interstate Paper in Riceboro, communicate well with EMA and have their own hurricane-preparedness plans in place.