Why is debris from Hurricane Irma hanging around? A state subpoena aims to find out

Allegations of price gouging, breach of contract and extortion through slow work in Hurricane Irma debris removal has led the Florida attorney general’s office to hit three debris removal companies with investigative subpeonas Monday.

Deerfield Beach’s AshBritt Environmental; DRC Emergency Services, based in Galveston, Texas; and Minnesota’s Ceres Environmental Services must each hand over nearly all paperwork and record of communication with local governments and subcontractors concerning Hurricane Irma debris removal.

“Sitting debris is a health and safety hazard and needs to be removed as soon as possible — but instead of doing their jobs and helping Floridians recover, apparently some contractors are delaying the work or requesting higher rates,” Attorney General Bondi said. “These subpoenas seek to answer questions about why many communities are continuing to struggle with the hazards of debris while having to contend with rate hikes.”

For example, AshBritt and Crowder-Gulf both are contracted for removal of Hendry County debris. But as reported in The Miami Herald on Sept. 21, debris clearly isn’t being cleared.

“We’ve been told that our contracted rate of $5.50 a cubic yard is not going to cut it” with the subcontractors, Hendry County Administrator Charles Chapman said. “It would be nice if we had cash to play. But we don’t.”

In a late Tuesday afternoon statement, DRC says it’s clearing debris in 21 of 23 Florida cities or counties at its original contracted rates. One of the other two jurisdictions, DRC claims, increased DRC’s pay in early September. DRC President of Emergency Services John Sullivan says while this allowed the company to use more local equipment, speeding up debris removal, “it did affect a neighboring jurisdiction.”

Here’s how DRC’s statement describes this effect: “This unilateral rate increase caused an immediate strain on DRC’s subcontractors in the adjacent jurisdiction, who understandably demanded equal pay for equal work. As a result, and after endorsements from the adjacent jurisdiction, DRC received one rate increase for disaster recovery services in order to keep pace with the trend created by the first jurisdiction.”

David J. Neal: 305-376-3559, @DavidJNeal

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