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Debris Amounts Called 'Staggering' as Cleanup Continues

Debris collected, if piled to a depth of 6 feet, would cover almost 28 football fields.

With days and days of unseasonable weather, it would be easy to let the recent storm and power outage start to fade a bit from memory.

But for Tom Roy, the town’s Director of Public Works, the storm is still not over. He is working to ensure that the debris gets picked up before another storm hits, monitoring the progress to ensure that the town will be eligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding and thinking ahead to what trees and branches will still need to be addressed.

At the board of selectmen’s meeting Wednesday he gave a presentation updating the debris clearing process.

It can be hard to grasp just how much debris is being collected and brought to a location on Powder Forest Drive where it is chipped. But one recent image is this: by the time the project is completed, officials estimate that the debris collected, if piled to a depth of 6 feet, would cover about 28 football fields.

At the meeting Roy called the amount of debris “staggering.”

“It’s been a trying couple of weeks,” he said.

He outlined the public works response by saying cleanup started Oct. 29 when his crews were out clearing debris during the storm. The following Sunday more formal plans were taking shape for the cleanup. At first the thinking was local contractors would be used, but the scope of the project was so great a national company experienced in this type of work was chosen during the bidding process.

On Nov. 11 after an expedited biding process the contract was awarded to CERES Environmental. The company started the next day. The firm, with offices in Texas, Florida, Louisiana and Minnesota, specializes in the management of disaster recovery/debris operations after major catastrophes such as earthquakes, hurricanes and floods.

The bid gave the company up to 35 days to complete curbside pickup, after which their pay would decrease. Roy reported that the company has removed more than 2,000 hanging limbs and has more than 6,000 to go. Since starting, the company has only taken two days off, one of them being Thanksgiving day.

So far, 138,000 cubic yards have been collected and it is estimated that in the end, 275,000 cubic yards will be collected. Early estimates put that number at 120,000 to 125,000 cubic yards.

“We have gone we above and beyond that,” said Roy.

It was estimated that each home would have about 15 cubic yards of debris but it is turning out to be closer to 30-35 cubic yards per household. Each day about 18,000 cubic yards of debris are picked up.

Of the Farmington Valley towns, Simsbury seems to have been hit the hardest as Farmington, Avon and Granby had less than half as much debris to remove, according to estimates.

“We have more trees,” said Roy.

The town approved $2.24 million for all storm related costs, but will most likely need to go to a referendum to approve more funding as estimates put the storm cost at $3.55. The town will be eligible for 75 reimbursement of that from FEMA, which is why the town followed procedures to letter, and hired a monitoring company to oversee the debris project to ensure that funding would not be jeopardized.

“It’s good insurance,” said Roy of the monitoring company.

There has been some confusion and frustration on the part of residents as the debris removal has only loosely followed an outside in grid, as it was left up to the company how best to proceed given the scope and size 164 miles or road in town. Also confusing things are some contractors that are spreading false information house to house as he or she goes to looking for business.

If a monitor sees that non-storm related debris has been picked up or another violation has taken place the town could lose 20 percent off the FEMA funding.

Roy said there are 140 people working on the cleanup project on any given day in town and the work is proceeding ahead of schedule.

As of Tuesday, November 29, 2011, 50 percent of the town-wide debris pick-up had been completed and it is anticipated that pick-up will be complete by Dec. 16. CERES is running 29 load and haul trucks and 10 bucket trucks, with more trucks being added each day.

At the collection site massive trucks and machinery move the debris into a chipper. The chips are then going to be used as mulch and will eventually be moved to East Windsor.

The problem with trying to make any profit from the mulch is that there is a glut on the market at the moment so it is now costing money to get rid of the chips in some cases. And the chips cannot be stored as they will burn due to the heat generated by the chipper. The town does not have the proper storage facility to keep the mulch until the market stabilizes.

Roy said professionals he encountered were referring to Simsbury as “ground zero” for the storm damage and many from out of state said this much damage is usually due to an ice storm.

“It’s historic,” he said.

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