Complicating the cleanup is competition for contractors who do the work. City Manager Jimmy Morales asked Commissioners for authorization to increase the rates the City will pay for debris removal. Prior to hurricane season, the City pre-negotiated contracts as recommended by FEMA which, in the City’s case, are for $7 a cubic yard. Due to Irma’s size and the shear volume of work to be done, Morales said the City may need to pay more to keep contractors working here. “What’s happening now is because Irma cut a swath across the entire state, all 67 counties have activated their FEMA debris removal contracts plus hundreds of cities. Some areas that didn’t have contracts – like Miami-Dade County – are now basically doubling the price and offering to pay $15 a cubic yard,” he told Commissioners. “I would like at least the authorization – so that we don’t lose resources in terms of trucks – to negotiate with our current vendors and perhaps even new vendors, perhaps as high as the County rate. We don’t think we need to go that high but I would hate to lose trucks and not be able to respond as quickly because of this sort of competition out there.”
There is a risk to the City that it may not get reimbursed for the difference between the pre-negotiated rate and the final rate but Morales said FEMA recently issued a letter in Texas which was ravaged by Harvey allowing jurisdictions to pay higher than the pre-negotiated rate. “I believe that will be coming in Florida as well,” he said. “But I don’t want to wait for that … I know there are folks that are already getting impatient about debris” which is why he asked Zamora to put Irma’s debris into context with Wilma’s.
Despite the sheer volume, Zamora said, “I do see it getting a little better every day. Just to give you an idea, during Wilma we were at 2,100 cubic yards per day [picked up].” As of Monday, “We’ve picked up 20,000 cubic yards off the ground not including what DOT did on their State roads,” he told Commissioners. “So, yes, the cliff is a little bit higher because there’s more of it … but we are on pace to be picking up about 3,000 cubic yards a day.”
Morales said he couldn’t guarantee FEMA would reimburse the difference but reiterated, “I would hate to lose equipment and lose truckers and have the stuff take a lot longer to clean up. We feel that the risk is manageable because we do believe FEMA will have to do in Florida what they did in Texas so cities don’t lose that capacity, but there is that risk.”
Chuck Tear, Miami Beach Emergency Manager, said, “The risk is actually greater for us not to. Every time you have debris in a parking spot, you lose revenue on the parking spot. You lose revenue in every business. You lose revenue and you increase your risk of injury.”
Commissioner Joy Malakoff added, “I would just like to remind the Commissioners that the Winter season is soon upon us. We really have to get our streets cleaned before all of our visitors come to town.”
Morales said any costs not covered by FEMA would come out of the City’s emergency reserves and contingency fund though the City is utilizing special consultants for FEMA documentation to ensure reimbursement. “The expectation is that all the expenses that are related to the preparation and the recovery, hopefully, will be as much as 100% reimbursable by FEMA,” he told Commissioners. He added City departments are carefully tracking expenses to meet FEMA reimbursement guidelines.
After voting in favor of giving Morales the authorization to increase rates for debris removal, Commissioner John Alemán asked for an explanation of debris cleanup priorities. Speaking to Zamora she said, “I think it’s really crucial what you told us – that Hurricane Irma brought down 2-3 times as much material as Wilma and that cleaning up from Wilma took you 2½ months so we – and certainly you as well – but we are going to get many, many emails from disgruntled residents about how long it’s taking.” She asked for a Letter to Commission “with a methodology of where we’re going next to pick up so we’ve got a rational explanation. What I don’t want is that whoever screams the loudest gets their debris picked up first. It needs to be transparent and methodical.” That explanation will be forthcoming according to Staff.
On Facebook, Alemán urged patience. “#HurricaneIrma yielded 250-300K cubic yards of debris. For reference, Hurricane Wilma yielded 135K cubic yds and took 2.5 mo to remove. Everyone needs to be patient, we have maximized contractors and yesterday [Monday] the commission took action to authorize rates higher than legal FEMA reimbursement, so we are doing everything we can to keep the contractors working in Miami Beach.”
City and State both clearing debris, separately
City administrators had hoped to use a State-owned site along the Julia Tuttle Causeway to handle the storm-related debris but the State said no, that it was going to use the location for its own storm operations. After offering to share the site with FDOT and to collect and dispose of debris on State-owned roads within the City in exchange for use of the site, the City was rebuffed again. City Manager Morales wrote in a Letter to Commission, “FDOT formally declined all offers and directed us not to use the site. Furthermore, they directed the City not to pick up the debris on the state roads in the City.”
As a result, the City had to find another location for debris handling. “The only location that meets the needs of this operation is the back corner of the Par 3 site adjacent to the Public Works yard,” Morales wrote. “This will be sited as far from residential properties as possible to minimize neighborhood impacts … Handling and removal of this material may take several months to accomplish. Once the work is complete, the site will be returned to its present condition unless the construction of the new park is ready to begin.”
FYI, State roads within Miami Beach include:
- 5th Street
- 41st Street
- 63rd Street
- 71st Street
- Normandy Drive
- Alton Road from 5th to 63rd
- Collins Avenue
- Indian Creek Drive
- Abbott Avenue
- Harding Avenue north of 73rd
To help facilitate debris cleanup, the City is asking homeowners to do the following:
- Separate your debris into two piles on your curbside or the swale area: One pile for heavy vegetation and the second for all other debris. Debris should NOT block roadways, sidewalks, fire hydrants, utilities or storm drains.
- Plastic bags containing small tree/plant debris should not be mixed in with the loose piles of green waste. The City asks you to set those aside as they will be picked up by a different crew.
- If you have scheduled landscaping service, the City asks that your contractors take the debris with them to expedite the cleanup process.
- Residents are encouraged to help by taking vegetative debris to the Green Waste Facility located at 2800 Meridian Avenue, Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Businesses and commercial properties need to make arrangements for the removal and disposal of all debris.