North Miami - NMB

This trash cleanup company lost a contract after Hurricane Irma. Now it’s filed a lawsuit

Kingston Saintiche, a dump truck operator with ICS Materials, watches as a subcontractor from Grubbs works a large excavator on top of a mountain of debris near Biscayne Park's village hall on Sept. 22, 2017. Another debris clearing company, Ashbritt, has filed a lawsuit against the city of North Miami Beach after losing its contract after Hurricane Irma.
Kingston Saintiche, a dump truck operator with ICS Materials, watches as a subcontractor from Grubbs works a large excavator on top of a mountain of debris near Biscayne Park's village hall on Sept. 22, 2017. Another debris clearing company, Ashbritt, has filed a lawsuit against the city of North Miami Beach after losing its contract after Hurricane Irma. emichot@miamiherald.com

Clearing out debris after Hurricane Irma hit South Florida was a headache and hassle for both residents and government officials, and disputes over costs and slow cleanup eventually led to some trash-hauling companies losing contracts.

One of the companies that lost a contract, Ashbritt Environmental, is now suing the city of North Miami Beach and seeking to be paid for its services, claiming that the busy storm season kept it from properly performing its duties.

In a complaint filed in Miami-Dade circuit court, Ashbritt claims that several factors kept the company from being able to carry out all its work. Beyond the hits from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, the company also claims that the competition for trash-hauling contractors and subcontractors made it difficult to find trucks for its own work.

“Ashbritt’s ability to perform its duties to the city were substantially interfered with and impeded as the necessary trucks and equipment flowed to those willing to pay much higher prices for quicker clean-up,” the complaint reads. “Ashbritt was unable to perform to the satisfaction of the city through no fault of its own, and its performance should be excused for impossibility of performance or force majeure event,” referring to unforeseeable circumstances that prevent a party from fulfilling a contract.

North Miami Beach decided to pay more to clear out the city’s debris after firing Ashbritt in late September, and awarded a new contract to DRC Emergency Services to handle trash hauling. City officials said all of the post-storm debris has been cleared.

When the city fired Ashbritt, City Manager Ana Garcia said in an email that “every opportunity was given to them to cure its default.”

City Attorney Jose Smith said the city had not been formally served with the company’s complaint, but he has read it and his staff is continuing to do research on the case.

Across South Florida, mounds of mangled trees, smashed patio furniture and other debris have lined the sides of streets since Irma blew through the state earlier this month.

“I find the complaint to be totally devoid of legal basis. It’s not a defense to walk away from a contract because it’s going to cost you more money,” Smith said, noting that he and his staff hoped to meet with the company’s legal team after the new year. “At this point, the filing of this lawsuit is an act of bad faith. We’ll do our talking in court.”

The city’s 2015 contract with Ashbritt was set to pay them at a rate of about $7 per cubic yard of trash. Its contract with DRC ended up at about $18 per cubic yard.

North Miami Beach officials are hoping to receive that cost difference from Ashbritt, but the company believes it should not have to pay. In the complaint, the company argues that even if it is responsible it should only have to pay for costs that won’t be reimbursed to North Miami Beach by FEMA.

Ashbritt also filed a lawsuit against Monroe County in October and had disputes with other Miami-Dade municipalities such as Coral Gables over Irma cleanup.

Aerial footage of residential damage and debris from Hurricane Irma near mile marker 74 in the Islamorada area of the Florida Keys.

Lance Dixon: 305-376-3708, @LDixon_3

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