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Debris dropoff locations to close

As the countywide cleanup of storm debris from Frances winds down, two storm debris dropoff sites are getting ready to close this weekend.

The North Pinellas site is at East Lake and Keystone roads. Another is at Belcher Road and 118th Avenue N just south of Largo. Both are scheduled to close at 7 p.m. Sunday. A third site in the Lealman area closed Thursday.

The temporary sites have enabled more than 5,000 residents to dispose of tree branches and other plant debris without paying a fee. And they brought in enough to cover a football field to a depth of 10 feet.

"We were very fortunate with this storm," solid waste program manager Deb Bush said. "The debris was primarily plant material, not concrete and steel. That gave us a lot more leeway."

County officials say the one-time free curbside pickup for unincorporated Pinellas County is still under way. They expect it to be complete within two weeks.

This is the first time the county has set up these locations, which are inspected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and monitored by county personnel.

Keeping the facilities open costs the county about $5,000 per day with a sheriff's deputy, county inspectors and county personnel manning them.

But now the demand is tapering off. The first week averaged about 600 to 700 cars and trucks a day. That has dwindled to about 125 vehicles a day, said Brian Djak, project utility inspector for the Engineering Department, who was supervising the Keystone site on Friday.

"We're starting to see fresh green matter coming in," said Bush.

On Thursday, the Keystone site began using incinerators to get rid of the accumulated material. The "clean burn" incinerators use steel containers and a big fan to keep smoke to a minimum. Ash from the burn will be hauled away.

The incinerators being used allow air to flow over the fire and circulate, burning some of the smoke that would otherwise be produced, said Joe Fernandez, Pinellas County solid waste specialist,

"You can see the heat but it has minimal smoke," he said.

The debris from the Belcher site will be hauled by a contractor and brought to the Bridgeway Acres Landfill on 114th Avenue N, where there is a similar incinerator.

Getting rid of all the debris probably will take two to three weeks, Bush said.

Residents still bringing in material Friday said they were happy to have the dropoff sites available.

At the East Lake site, which is on property owned by the Pinellas County School District, Linda and Gil Brown of Highland Lakes in Palm Harbor unloaded part of their 80-foot sweet gum tree in the hot sun Friday morning. It was their third trip to the East Lake site.

"We're very grateful that this lot is open for us," Linda Brown said. "At least we have somewhere to take it."

Several tree services had promised to come and clean up the tree damage after Frances, but no one did, Gil Brown said.

"I was afraid it would start blowing away," he said.

Neighborhoods around the temporary debris site include Woodfield, Keystone Bluffs, Oak Hill and Wentworth. On Friday, several residents of those neighborhoods said they hadn't found the debris dropoff site to be nuisance.

"It doesn't bother me at all," said Gloria Harris, a 15-year resident of Oak Lake Village, which backs up to the site.

"It's a great idea, rather than scattering it throughout the neighborhood," said her husband, Anthony Harris. The two were seated on patio furniture in their garage.

"We sit out all day long and we never smell it," he said.

"It's a temporary thing," said Jack Reynolds, who can't see it directly due to shrubs in his back yard. "It hasn't bothered me."

But that's not true down the street.

"It's an emergency and I understand that," said Arno Penu, who has lived there for 15 years and remembers when cows roamed the pasture. "But we don't feel (this) is appropriate."

Penu trimmed his palm trees and brought it over, he said.

"It's a clean burn but it's still a burn," he said. "They've got commercial people dumping there. It leaves a bitter taste."

His wife Kathy had a problem with hearing the beeping of the trucks late at night.

"I was a little annoyed that they were still doing it at 11 o'clock," she said.