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Lee County and Cape Coral express satisfaction with pace of hurricane debris collection

Mike Walcher
A huge pile of hurricane debris sits along a street in North Fort Myers. It will take at least another week, and perhaps 10 days, for collection trucks to make a first pass in every neighborhood in unincorporated Lee County, according to the head of the solid waste department.

The reminders of Hurricane Ian are piled along the streets and roads of some parts of Southwest Florida: mountains of dead trees and branches, water-logged furniture, strips of metal, wet drywall and other debris from flooded homes.

Debris collection began in unincorporated Lee County and in the City of Cape Coral within one week of the storm. But the task is daunting, with millions of cubic yards of debris still to be collected.

It's become a topic of conversation in the area: How's the debris pick-up on your street? What does it look like?

"It's a big mess, leaves and branches everywhere," Charles Harris of Cape Coral said. "It's terrible."

Contractors for local governments have collected more than a couple of million cubic yards of debris, but millions more remain in piles along streets. How do government bodies decide where to collect the leftovers from Ian first?

"The first thing we do with the department of transportation is to clear the streets," Doug Whitehead, director of solid waste for Lee County, said. "Then we absolutely start with the hardest-hit areas, like Iona, and those closest to the water."

Cape Coral followed the same plan.

"We are doing the big focus on the hardest-hit areas first, which would be the south part of the city," Kaitlyn Pearson of the Cape Coral public information staff said.

Pearson said the contractor has sent a truck through every neighborhood in the city, and now is starting a second pass in some areas. Whitehead of Lee County said it will take another 10 days to reach every neighborhood for the first time.

Cape Coral officials are hoping to finish the pick-up by the end of November, according to Pearson. Whitehead said the goal in unincorporated Lee is to finish by the start of the end-of-year holidays.

Whitehead said political or neighborhood pressures do not figure in the decisions on where to collect debris.

"Favoritism is not good, and ends up not working for the community at large," he said.

One issue is what to do with debris that falls out of the claws or falls into the street from one of the big collection trucks. Pearson had this advice. "Be a good neighbor," she said. "If you see something the claw might have missed, we just ask that you stack that back up in the right of way."

Debris collection is a local government responsibility, so the cities of Fort Myers and Bonita Springs have their own contractors. You can check websites of most government bodies to track the collection of hurricane debris.

Forty-one-year veteran of television news in markets around the country, including more than 18 years as an anchor and reporter at WINK-TV in southwest Florida.