Debris removal units hit the streets Monday in the capital city region, with 20 trucks in Baton Rouge and 10 crews in Livingston Parish starting to haul off the furniture, drywall and other ruined possessions now piled up along streets after floods punished the region one week ago.
East Baton Rouge Parish's debris removal contractor, DRC Emergency Services, expects that it will take around 90 days to make three sweeps through neighborhoods and collect debris. The task is daunting — their preliminary estimate is that the city-parish could have 325,000 to 400,000 cubic yards of debris and that they picked up 6,000 cubic yards by Monday afternoon.
This from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality:
Each of their trucks can haul between 100 and 150 cubic yards of material, and DRC Vice President Mark Stafford estimated that his workers could pick up 20,000 cubic yards this week.
The city-parish could be spending around $5.6 million on debris pickup, depending on how much debris there is. Their contract with DRC specifies that City Hall will pay them $13.98 per cubic yard to pick up, process and dispose of construction and demolition debris.
DRC, in turn, expects to hire five to six subcontractors who they will pay $5 per cubic yard for debris pickup in East Baton Rouge.
FEMA is expected to reimburse the city-parish 75 percent of the costs of debris pickup and other cleanup and rebuilding because of the floods. City-parish Finance Director Marsha Hanlon said the FEMA reimbursement could be higher than 75 percent if the U.S. Congress increases the ratio, and that the city-parish plans to foot their 25 percent of the bill with landfill funds or reserves.
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The first ZIP codes that DRC moved through on Monday were 70714, 70802, 70819, 70814 and 70811. They got a jump-start on collecting around 1,500 cubic yards of debris in some of the hardest hit areas over the weekend.
The next ZIP codes that crews will move into are 70805 and 70812.
As DRC and city-parish officials updated the Metro Council on Monday about their progress, council members said they are already impatient. They wondered if community members could help in the efforts, but DRC representatives said they have to follow strict rules about monitoring and measuring what they pick up so that FEMA will reimburse the cost.
For example, the contractors cannot pick up debris from businesses yet because FEMA will not reimburse that expense. DRC representatives also said cleanup in the wake of floods can be more difficult than other events, because the debris includes furniture and appliances whereas in Baton Rouge storms like hurricanes usually create mostly vegetative debris.
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Metro Council members urged them to move as quickly as possible.
"Walking out your house every day and seeing all of your stuff, all of your baby's stuff, all of the things you've accumulated over the years, adds that extra amount of stress and pressure," said Metro Councilwoman Tara Wicker.
DRC is also the contractor for debris pickup in Ascension Parish. Stafford said the parish contracts are separate and have separate equipment and project managers. He said they expect to hire two subcontractors to help in Ascension.
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Ceres Environmental Services is the contractor for Livingston.
Livingston's Emergency Preparedness Director Mark Harrell said he expects to ramp up to 40 or 50 trucks picking up debris there in the upcoming days. He said he could not verify which areas the trucks visited yet and where they will go next.
"Honestly, I haven't driven the whole parish and don't have a super grasp of how much is piled up, but what I have seen is terrible," Harrell said. "There are a lot of loads out there, but I'm hoping to manage it all with about 40 to 50 trucks in the end."
Harrell said he did not want to establish a schedule for picking up debris in each area of the parish because it would pressure residents to finish gutting their homes and businesses by a certain date. He asked people who are anxious to see their debris gone to have patience.
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Ceres will begin debris removal Tuesday in Denham Springs under a separate contract with the city, Mayor Gerard Landry said. Routes have not yet been established there either, the mayor said.
Central, Zachary and Baker all have their own debris contracts being handled separately.
Debris collection took longer Monday in the parish because the state Department of Environmental Quality has not expanded their definition of construction and demolition waste to include things like mattresses and furniture. Stafford said they anticipate that will be changed, as it has been in previous disaster cleanups, but as of Monday the regulations stood.
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As a result, as trucks get to Ronaldson Field in Alsen for disposal, staff has to sort through the debris so that anything not slated for a construction and demolition landfill can be taken out and hauled to the East Baton Rouge Parish North Landfill, Stafford said. City-parish Chief Administrative Officer William Daniel said the city-parish wants the flood debris to go to the Ronaldson Field landfill, but that they will switch to the North Landfill if Ronaldson Field fills up too quickly.
Greg Langley, DEQ spokesman, said the department was working on the issue.
Stafford said the company hasn’t started collection in Ascension Parish yet because parts of the parish are still flooded, but that collection is expected to begin Wednesday or Thursday.