THE city of St. Petersburg, Florida, after dodging Hurricane Charley's direct hit, received fringe winds from Hurricanes Francis and Jeanne in a period of two weeks. While still in the recovery process, the storm debris is estimated to be 25,000 tons of vegetation — 10,000 tons from Francis and Jeanne adding another 15,000 tons from wind gusts of 72 miles per hour as the storm exited Florida's west coast after crossing the state. This is half the annual tonnage normally recycled in the city's yard waste recycling program which has significantly stressed its processing site.
The city chose to implement storm recovery operations rather than employ a disaster recovery contractor. Conversely, unincorporated Pinellas County and the neighboring counties of Polk and Hillsborough, where there was more damage due to being closer to the storms' center of circulation, opted to contract out yard debris recovery operations.
Free curbside collections continue at the time of this report. By October 14th, 17,102 tons have been collected with 12,140 tons of debris ground and 4,962 tons unground. We estimate collections to be 68 percent completed. The Sanitation, Parks, Engineering and Storm Water Departments' employees have been working nonstop since Labor Day weekend following Hurricane Francis to collect and transfer the fallen debris. Five city brush dropoff sites were swamped with debris for two weeks following Francis. This required employment of spotters, traffic directors and inspectors to authorize entry.
The 25,000 tons of storm debris mulch have been committed to three land application projects encompassing a total of 46 acres — eight acres of wetland restoration for a land developer; 10 acres of mine land reclamation at a shell mine and 28 acres of sheet composting for a citrus grove.
When employees from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) arrived, the first instruction was to provide accurate documentation of storm recovery measurements. The city will receive assistance for overtime expenses associated with the costs of collecting, grinding and trucking the debris mulch. The FEMA agent provided a useful handbook that helped quantify and standardize debris estimates. The handbook, Public Assistance Debris Management Guide (FEMA 325), used the conversion standard of vegetation weighing 300 lbs/cubic yard and ground mulch weighing 500 lbs./yd,. which simplified calculations.
Our location on the fringe edge of both storms caused lower wind gusts, therefore the debris was 90 percent brush and small debris with 10 percent trees. We report to FEMA biweekly yardage measurements of debris collected, ground and then shipped as mulch. Our early accounting indicated a problem resolving discrepancies in the measured yardage of mulch staged in 14-foot high windrows and then remeasured when shipped. We found we were underestimating the compaction factor while in windrows. The compaction factor normally used of 20 percent was found to be too low. The volume when first measured in a staged windrow expanded up to 50 percent as it is manipulated and then loaded into transfer trailers.
The same discrepancy occurred in brush staged in piles up to 14 feet of height before grinding. Our estimates of debris yardage collected and delivered did not square with the yardage measured when the debris was staged in piles before grinding. We believe the compaction factor of a14-foot high pile can be up to 50 percent, based on a 20 percent volume loss from decomposition and drying with up to an additional 30 percent compaction from brush placed in a high pile that has been collected and staged using a highly mechanized heavy equipment operation. However, many additional factors of vegetative characteristics, collection methods, and equipment used will change this compaction estimate percentage.
When talking to representatives of the mulch bagging industry in Florida this month, not many would give an optimistic forecast for markets in the immediate future. Agricultural field crops will get to market late. Damage was more severe in the storms' paths where tree farms and nursery houses received significant structural damage. The citrus industry had 90 percent loss of fruit with high tree loss. Polk County was hit with three hurricanes in one season; this has never been previously recorded. But, as anyone who has dealt with the agricultural industry knows, they are a hardy breed of individualists and survivors. Private insurance and federal disaster money is providing some immediate relief. The city of St. Petersburg has been very fortunate.
In conclusion, we have learned from the first chapter of the FEMA disaster recovery guidelines that states everyone should have more predisaster planning and do the following: Better identify the amounts of debris; identify and have available suitable staging sites; and have available a debris disposal or recycling plan.
James Ragsdale is with the Public Works Department of St. Petersburg, Florida.