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Lee County's Ian debris haul hits record level, continues to grow

Mike Braun
Lee County has collected over 4 million cubic yards of debris since Ian made landfall, a record amount for any hurricane in the United States, but particularly here in Southwest Florida.

Updated Dec. 6, 2022

Hurricane Ian caused a lot of debris from construction and demolition along with the vegetative debris from trees.

Ask any project manager of a debris management site and they'll tell you "every storm is different."

Barry Lund is the project manager of the CrowderGulf site located at Coconut Road and US 41 highway in Estero. He says that CrowderGulf worked both hurricanes Charley and Irma, and were prepared for boots on the ground with Ian. But, he says, Ian was different because of the storm surge.

"This storm was a heavy storm surge. So, you've got much more construction debris than in Irma. Irma was probably 80% vegetative debris, maybe 20 percent C&D. In Ian, this is going to be more like 50-50. It's just a much higher concentration of construction debris because of all the flooding."

As of December 6, Lee County has collected over 4 million cubic yards of debris since Ian made landfall September 28, a record amount for any hurricane in the United States, but particularly here in Southwest Florida. Doug Whitehead is the director of Solid Waste in Lee County.

"There's no comparison. Irma was about 1.8 million cubic yards, and that was done I think over about five months. With Ian, we surpassed that in about 40 days," he said.

The 3 million cubic yards of debris includes vegetation, demolition/construction debris, and some sand cleaned up along the beaches. But, he says, the percentage of of demolition debris continues to grow.

"We think there's probably 10 million cubic yards total. And that’s why you continue to see the trucks rolling every day," says Whitehead.

Ten million cubic yards total just for Lee County! That equates to twenty-three football fields with debris stacked 200 feet high or as tall as an airport control tower. Just for Lee County.

Charlotte and Collier county combined have about as much as Lee County's total.

The debris is collected by the now omnipresent black hauling trucks. The trucks with the additional trailer is called a double barrel. Each trailer can hold up to 125 to 150 cubic yards. But the average is around 80 cubic yards due to the bulkiness of the debris. That means thousands of trucks collecting thousands of loads across Southwest Florida.

Lee, Collier, and Charlottecounties each have websites sharing debris collection numbers: the number of loads collected, the total cubic yards, and construction and vegetation collections.

The CrowderGulf debris management site at 41 and Coconut Road is just one of many in the county set up after the monster storm. Each site separates storm debris into 5 piles: vegetative debris, construction and demolition or C&D, appliances and white goods, electronics or e-waste, and house hold hazardous waste.

That’s also how the county recommends separating storm debris for pickup at your home or business, says Whitehead. It needs to be placed within 5 feet of the curb, separate from household garbage. And Whitehead asks to avoid using black plastic bags.

Separating Debris
Lee County
Separating Debris

"The debris contractor, CrowderGulf, assumes that anything they can't physically see is like wet garbage like food waste and things which they are not allowed to pick up," says Whitehead. "So, black plastic bags are out. Yard waste can be placed in those large craft paper or clear plastic bags. Or they can be loose."

Ultimately the debris will either be taken to a local county landfill, ground up for mulch, or recycled based on the materials.

With the potential of 10 million cubic yards in Lee County and the current pace of collection, it’s likely Southwest Florida will see storm debris on curbs until late February. Whitehead assures people that it will get picked up.

"We're getting a lot of people who are wondering if we're coming back to their neighborhood. And the answer is 'yes," we will be collecting from multiple passes in all the neighborhoods in the county."

Barry Lund with CrowderGulf echoes the need for patience because since the day after the storm, he has personally driven through Bonita Springs and Estero with a map to determine debris collection priorities.

"I do realize in some of these areas up here really want their debris off of the ground and they had some trees and some palm trees down. We're going to get to you. It may take me a week or two, because these people down here", he says, pointing to an area near the Imperial River, "are totally decimated and they have to have it. They don't have running water, they don't have food. I mean they've got tents set up. People trying to bring in meals for them. They have lost everything and so our main focus goes to those areas."

If you need assistance to move debris from your home or business to curbside, Whitehead recommends calling the 211 number for United Way.

"United Way can absolutely link people who can't move material or don't have neighbors to help them with material, help them get it to the street. I know that I've worked with the church that has helped clean out about 150 homes to people who needed aid.

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