Miami-Dade County

Trash talk: Ugly, smelly debris piles will go away, but some not until after Christmas

September file photo of a staging site where crews pick up debris from Hurricane Irma in Hialeah.
September file photo of a staging site where crews pick up debris from Hurricane Irma in Hialeah. cmguerrero@elnuevoherald.com

Whether it’s a stinking pile in Liberty City or a decomposing one in East Kendall, debris fatigue is wearing on people eight weeks after Hurricane Irma made a mess of South Florida.

While overtime efforts to remove tons of debris left over from the Sept. 10 storm are progressing, public spaces still cluttered with tree limbs and now crowned with trash have become an unsightly part of the landscape.

The stuff has to be collected somewhere to be mulched, measured, sorted and hauled away, and one staging site in Liberty City at the Poinciana Industrial Park operated by Miami-Dade County is particularly problematic because it is located across the street from the Scott Carver housing development.

“It’s an enormous dump filled with vegetation, mattresses and other trash and crawling with snakes, roaches and rats,” said Elizabeth Tavares of the Miami Workers Center, which is helping residents present their complaints to the county. “It’s an environmental hazard that is aggravating cases of asthma and causing migraines. People are just not feeling well and have to walk around with facemasks.

“We’ve been told it could be here until February.”

The county, which stopped accepting debris at that site at Northwest 75 Street and Northwest 25th Avenue on Wednesday, is burdened with the biggest job in South Florida: cleaning up 4 million cubic yards of debris, 25 percent higher than its original estimate of 3 million. Still on the streets: 591,252 cubic yards. At the county’s six staging sites, 136,871 cubic yards of debris have been ground down and removed, leaving 3,271,877 in the piles, where contractors are separating vegetative and non-vegetative debris. The sites are located in Liberty City, at Opa-Locka Airport West, Old South Dade Landfill East, West Kendall District Park, Homestead Air Reserve Park and the 58th Street Landfill.

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September file photo of debris cleanup at the Village of Biscayne Park. Emily Michot emichot@miamiherald.com

The county is handling pickup for unincorporated areas and 12 municipalities (Aventura, Cutler Bay, Doral, Miami Gardens, Miami Lakes, Opa-Locka, Palmetto Bay, Pinecrest, Sunny Isles Beach, South Miami, North Bay Village and Medley.)

“We expect the entire debris removal operation to be completed by January 2018,” said Frank Calderon, communications manager for the county’s Department of Solid Waste Management.

One pocket that seems to have been forgotten is the 50-home enclave of Galloway Estates at Snapper Creek near Dadeland. There have been zero pickups at the gated community, even though the homeowners association submitted proper paperwork and residents have called for help repeatedly.

“They’ve picked up everything around us, sometimes twice or three times, and we’ve been totally bypassed,” said Monika Martins. “When we saw the contractors nearby we were so excited and told them to please come in, but nothing was done. We tried to hire somebody and he said, ‘It’s too big.’ So we’re still waiting. We pay the same tax rate as everybody else. When? Why?”

City of Coral Gables director or Public Works Ed Santamaria talks about the city's efforts to clean up tree debris after Hurricane Irma on Sept. 27, 2017.

The city of Miami has picked up 87 percent and a total of 652,669 cubic yards from the streets. About 22 percent of that has been hauled away from the five staging sites located at Marlins Park, Robert King High Park, Biscayne Park, the Police Benevolent Association and Virginia Key. Of the debris collected, 303,360 cubic yards was vegetative material and 349,309 cubic yards was mixed.

In Coral Gables, about 90 percent of the city’s 500 miles of swales has had the second pass of debris collection. More than 330,000 cubic yards has been collected at three staging sites equivalent to more than a year and a half of trash collection. Many trees still need to be righted and 300 stumps need to be removed.

Miami Beach has finished picking up and removing 160,000 cubic yards of debris.

In North Miami Beach, about 80,000 cubic yards of debris has been cleared from the streets and about 40,000 remains at the city’s two staging sites.

“We are clean as of three Thursdays ago,” said Assistant City Manager Esmond Scott. “What’s left to do with the trees is to deal with the hangers, leaners and stumps. We want to be done by mid-November.”

Three weeks after Hurricane Maria ransacked Puerto Rico, mounds of soaking, animal-infested garbage still line streets. Public health experts say every day that the debris remains, the risk of an epidemic grows.

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