A month after Hurricane Ian skirted Tampa Bay, storm debris remains. Here’s why.

There are still brush piles awaiting pickup in Hillsborough County, where the cleanup is behind schedule, and St. Petersburg, which is almost done.
A view of the overflow debris management site at Maximo Park where debris from Hurricane Ian collected in St. Petersburg has been taken over the past month. The city is on schedule to finish debris collection next week, an administrator said.
A view of the overflow debris management site at Maximo Park where debris from Hurricane Ian collected in St. Petersburg has been taken over the past month. The city is on schedule to finish debris collection next week, an administrator said. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Nov. 2, 2022|Updated Nov. 2, 2022

More than a month after Hurricane Ian, Tampa Bay has few physical remnants of the storm that threatened it before devastating Southwest Florida. But drive around the region, or even go for a walk in your neighborhood, and you may get a reminder in the form of brush piled on the curb.

While some local governments have gotten the downed limbs picked up — you shouldn’t see brush piles in Largo or Clearwater, the cities say — the work continues elsewhere.

Though Ian left Tampa Bay largely unscathed, it did knock down a lot of trees and limbs, creating plenty of cleanup work, local officials say. And many of the private contractors that bay area governments use after storms headed south, where their services were in greater demand.

Related: Fewer evacuated to shelters during Hurricane Ian. How can Tampa Bay stay safe?

In Hillsborough County, officials originally projected the cleanup effort would conclude around Sunday, 30 days after it began. Now, with county officials facing more debris than they’d expected, they now say it will extend at least four more weeks.

Through Monday, two private contractors and county staff had collected 277,200 cubic yards of debris, said Travis Barnes, sustainable materials manager for the county’s Solid Waste Department. The county initially estimated the contractors could collect 300,000 to 400,000 yards within 30 days, but the cleanup will now continue through November. That could stretch longer in the eastern and southern areas of the county, Barnes said.

In St. Petersburg, city employees have already collected some 83,000 cubic yards of vegetative debris, forming a small brown mountain in the overflow parking lot of Maximo Park.

The plan to finish the job within five weeks of the storm is on schedule, said Mike Jefferis, the city’s leisure services administrator. The cleanup passed the three-quarters-complete mark last week, and Jefferis expects to wrap up by the middle of next week.

Remaining debris piles fall into two categories, Jefferis said. Many were put out after the city did its first “sweep” in the days after the storm. Typically, the city is responsible for the first three days of storm cleanup, and contractors come in after that. But those same contractors have been so busy with post-Ian work in Southwest Florida that the city has had to enlist its own employees, from the Sanitation, Water Resources and Parks and Recreation departments, to methodically re-sweep its 60 square miles, a process that’s still ongoing.

“Staff is working extremely hard, 12-hour days — we’re working around the clock trying to get it cleaned up,” Jefferis said. “We’ve never cleared the city this fast.”

Related: How to prepare for Florida hurricanes, and why you should start now

The other remaining piles break city rules, by mixing storm debris with other stuff: pieces of drywall, an old couch, fresher lawn waste.

“We’ve even had people clean out their garage and pile it all out there, thinking this is their chance to get a free pickup,” he said.

Like St. Petersburg, Tampa still has work to do but is on schedule: The city has cleared 74,000 cubic yards of debris and should be done within its self-imposed 60-day time frame, said Solid Waste Director Larry Washington.

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Whether your city or county is done picking up debris, and whether they started in the first place, depends on where you live. Pinellas County told people in unincorporated areas to put whatever small debris they could in their trash cans; anything bigger, residents would be responsible for getting to the county’s solid waste disposal complex.

The city of Clearwater, which did pick up debris, announced it was done on Oct. 14. The city of Largo finished its cleanup on Oct. 21, a spokesperson said.

There wasn’t enough debris in Pasco County to warrant special pickups, a spokesperson said, though fees were waived for storm debris at solid-waste drop-off sites for about a week after the storm.

Times staff writers Charlie Frago and Barbara Behrendt contributed to this report.