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Tampa hires second contractor to pick up Hurricane Irma debris

A city of Tampa truck loaded with debris from Hurricane Irma pulls into a temporary storage yard on N Rome Avenue last week. There, workers from Tetra Tech, the city's debris monitoring contractor, photograph and check the load from an elevated platform to create a record that the city can use later to seek reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. RICHARD DANIELSON  |  Times
A city of Tampa truck loaded with debris from Hurricane Irma pulls into a temporary storage yard on N Rome Avenue last week. There, workers from Tetra Tech, the city's debris monitoring contractor, photograph and check the load from an elevated platform to create a record that the city can use later to seek reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. RICHARD DANIELSON | Times
Published Sep. 28, 2017

TAMPA — After South Florida intercepted a fleet of rental trucks needed by its storm debris pickup contractor, Tampa has hired a second contractor and agreed to pay both companies more money to clean up after Hurricane Irma.

The city also has lowered its estimate of how much storm debris there is to haul away. Last week, the job looked like it could entail removing as much as 300,000 cubic yards of debris.

"The original estimate is not accurate," Tampa public works and utility services administrator Brad Baird said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times.

The new estimate is more like 100,000 cubic yards. As of 6 p.m. Monday, pickup crews had collected about 11,000 cubic yards from 28 of 235 grids in the city. (Tampa officials are using the Police Department's patrol grids to organize the work.)

Extrapolating, that would translate to 93,000 cubic yards total to pick up — "call it 100,000 to be safe," Baird said.

The city also has hired a second contractor, Payne's Environmental, which is sending 11 new pickup crews to Tampa. They will work alongside city crews and crews from the city's original contractor, Ceres Environmental.

Ceres sent five crews working with large trucks and large trailers to Tampa, and early last week expected to rent more equipment and send up to 30 more trucks. But after South Florida communities started offering up to $15 per cubic yard for debris removal, Ceres' supplier diverted the trucks earmarked for Tampa to South Florida.

Tampa was not the only bay-area community to have problems getting its cleanup scaled up to the size of the challenge. Clearwater's contractor, AshBritt Environmental, was a no-show well after the city expected it to be on the job, but the company said Friday that it would begin operations Saturday. St. Petersburg and Pinellas County officials also said their contractors had seen subcontractors send trucks to South Florida.

Given the demand, Tampa has agreed to pay both Ceres and Payne $11 per cubic yard, which Baird said is "much more competitive with the rest of the state" than the city's original rate of $9.77 per cubic yard.

With less debris than originally estimated to pick up, the city's hauling costs are likely to be lower than first expected even as it pays more per cubic yard for the removal.

Baird said Wednesday it's too soon to say how long the cleanup will take, but he should "know more after we see the production through this weekend with both contractors and city crews going full bore."

Mayor Bob Buckhorn has said it wouldn't surprise him for the job to take two months.

"There are piles of debris everywhere," he said. Officials ask that residents put storm debris at the curb unbundled and unbagged, and separated by type, such as into tree limbs, plywood and roofing shingles.

City officials have estimated that Tampa's storm-related expenses, including overtime, fuel and debris cleanup, could reach $7 million. They hope most will be reimbursed by the federal government.

"We're being meticulous about making sure we record and justify all of our expenses, so we can submit them for reimbursement," Buckhorn said.

To get reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, local governments and contractors can't use just any truck, and the trucks have to be loaded by certain types of mechanical claws, not by hand, Baird said.

In addition, the city or its contractors have to certify the type of every vehicle used, as well as its loading equipment and load capacity. There has to be a record made, including a photo, of every driver.

As loads come in to the city's storage site on N Rome Avenue, a monitoring contractor, Tetra Tech, documents the delivery, inspects the load, takes a photo and estimates how full the truck is. FEMA provides less reimbursement for partial loads.

Then, on the way out of the yard, another photo is made to ensure that the truck is empty, so that it's not getting a head start on the next load.

Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times