The Monroe County Commission met this past Monday to pin down the anticipated timetable for removing remaining debris from Sept. 10’s Hurricane Irma. The brief meeting was with parties charged with completing the massive cleanup throughout the Keys.
Commissioner George Neugent prefaced the forum by demanding clarity so he could respond properly to the outpouring of emails and phone calls he continues to receive from scores of frustrated Lower Keys residents who are living with debris piles.
We heard that from mile marker 16 south and from mile marker 92 north, debris pickup by the county is complete. AshBritt, one of the largest debris-removal firms in the country, was charged with removal in those areas. DRC Emergency Services, a Texas company that worked in Monroe County after Hurricane Wilma in 2005, was the lead contractor for mile markers 16 through 40
Pickup largely stopped in late October when the state Department of Transportation, which had dispatched haul-out firms to the Lower Keys from Sugarloaf Key to the south end of the Seven Mile Bridge, said its work was done. DOT got involved when Gov. Rick Scott invited contractors to bid for Keys hurricane debris removal even while the other companies were still working here.
Last week, DOT said it would perform one last sweep on U.S. 1. DOT has hired debris-hauling company MCM to do the work while operations are overseen by a company called HDR.
While it’s well and good that more than a quarter of the county is finished, it’s clear there’s still plenty of work to be done on the other 75 percent, the hardest hit areas and the epicenter of frustration for residents and commissioners alike.
MCM’s Eddie Martinez said Monday that debris removal is on track to be completed by mid- to late January, February at the latest. County Administrator Roman Gastesi confirmed that projected timetable, although listening to him do the math for the amount of time still needed to complete the cleanup by multiplying the estimated number of cubic yards of debris left by the number of trucks needed to conduct that hauling was mind-numbing.
Just because one says something publicly, confidently or emphatically doesn’t make it true. You could stand in the middle of Times Square in New York City with a megaphone proclaiming Santa Claus is real and that wouldn’t make it true.
The debate regarding using the county’s contracted debris-removal contractors vs. DOT contractors is the underpinning of where we are, or aren’t, today and at the core of the delays in completion. The sheer volume, estimated at 2 million cubic yards of debris, plus the county’s logistical layout, contribute, too. Many weighing in feel using the county-contracted contractors exclusively would have yielded better results.
Deeper details, like which sub-contractor is responsible in each region and whether it’s DOT’s or the county’s responsibility to manage the dumping sites is even more indicative of the dysfunction present. To the residents in the hardest-hit areas like Sugarloaf, Cudjoe and Ramrod keys who need action, they want action, not debates.
To be fair, this is a task that our government leaders couldn’t have possibly been prepared for. But it’s been three months since the hurricane struck and there’s been ample time to communicate effectively and execute an organized plan. Sure, adjustments to the plan may have been necessary but you modify them when needed and form a new plan.
We can debate whether where we are today is due to an error of omission or one of commission. It’s important to understand the difference: An error of omission is failing to do something when you should while an error of commission is doing something that should not be done. In the case of our debris removal, it may be a case of both.
In the weeks immediately following Irma, there was considerable disorganization and chaos at the county Emergency Operations Center. Remember County Emergency Management Director Martin Senterfitt’s comment regarding post-hurricane operations? “We spent a lot of time making it up as we went along.”
We might feel that disarray is still present with debris removal. Let’s just hope we’re not still making things up as we go along and can get our residents the clarity and action they deserve.