Source: US State of Florida
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – CBS-Miami ran a story yesterday that is critical of the state’s effort to clear debris and reopen US 1 in the Florida Keys following Hurricane Irma. This story got it wrong on debris removal, and omitted facts.
Governor Rick Scott said, “Let’s not forget, the Florida Keys, a chain of islands with only one way in and one way out, took a direct hit by a Category 4 hurricane. It’s easy for these vendors to look back and say they would have shown up and completed the work for cheaper, but in the days following the storm, they were clearly overleveraged and did not have the people or equipment to fulfill their commitments. I will never let special interests get in the way of storm recovery. We sent additional resources to get the job done for a community that needed help and given a choice, I would do the same thing again.
“We took swift and appropriate action to get debris removed quickly so the more than 80 percent of Keys residents who evacuated could return home. We had multiple vendors, lobbyists and legislators advocating for the state to let the federal government manage debris removal. The federal government would have contracted with the same companies, but it would have been more expensive for taxpayers. By holding the line and utilizing FDOT contractors, National Guardsman and internal FDOT crews, we made vendors trying to profit from this disaster angry. As Governor it is my job to help communities when they need it, and that is exactly what we did here.”
While special interests continue to produce falsehoods in an effort to discredit the state’s work to clear debris following Hurricane Irma, please see the following FACTS:
Monroe County Request for Assistance
- Monroe County submitted a request for assistance removing debris on September 12, 2017. (Please see the mission request #3054 below.)
- On October 27, 2017, Monroe County officially withdrew the request for assistance in debris removal and said that “FDOT’s contractors have made tremendous progress in the hardest hit area and have been instrumental in furthering our recovery efforts”. (Please see email below.)
- The reality is without US 1 and the surrounding area being clear, it would have been impossible for emergency vehicles to support survivors and for the more than 80 percent of Keys residents who evacuated to come home. This was unacceptable and action needed to be taken immediately.
- The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) worked to immediately begin debris removal in Monroe County through internal FDOT crews, the activation of 400 National Guard members and emergency debris removal contracts.
- FDOT entered into emergency debris removal contracts, which must be done to have the personnel and equipment to clear roads. FDOT solicited bids from multiple vendors that could safely and efficiently respond to Monroe County’s immediate debris removal needs.
- Monroe County Emergency Management Director Martin Senterfitt’s testified before the Florida Legislature in October regarding the debris removal: “The amount of debris we’re facing, some estimates over 2 million cubic yards of debris. It’s piled on the streets, it looks like the Florida Keys now has mountains. The debris issue is tremendous, but we’re working it. Fortunately, great partnerships, FDOT stepped forward, has really taken a leadership role and has helped us solve these problems. The reality is in times of disaster there’s never perfect answers. So much of this, by the very definition of a disaster, it’s a crisis and we have to make decisions because they’re the right decisions to make, not because they have the least amount of risk sometimes. We have to step up. We have to find solutions. We have to get to yes. You can’t just say no and give up in the middle of a disaster and DOT really stepped up for us and helped us find those solutions.” (Florida Channel, House Select Committee on Hurricane Response & Preparedness, Oct. 12, 2017, 48:45 – 50:32)
Documented Problems Plaguing the Debris Removal Industry
- Nationwide, emergency management officials were hearing from local communities that debris removal companies were not showing up for work or honoring their commitments.
- The business model of most debris removal companies posed a significant problem following Hurricane Irma. Many of the companies that had debris removal contracts did not own any trucks or crews, but rather relied on subcontractors. We heard from many counties and cities that vendors were not showing up regardless of the commitments they had in place. See below:
- “Having signed a 200-page debris hauling contract with AshBritt at a fixed rate of $8 a cubic yard, the hauler now says Collier will have to pay more than the contracted rate to get better service. Otherwise, residents can expect to put up with the debris along their streets even longer.” – Debris Hauler’s Success Built on ‘Paper Shuffling’ and Political Connections, Sunshine State News, Nancy Smith, October 9, 2017
- Counties and mayors all over the state were reporting that their vendors were unable to send the quantity of trucks they had committed to. See below:
- “With statewide demand, debris contractors have jacked up their prices. Some cities who had deals with companies say the companies are no shows, the agreed to prices too low.” – Debris Removal Is Big Job With Big Price, CBS-Miami, Gary Nelson September 22, 2017
- These vendors were lobbying the state to turn this work over to the federal Army Corps of Engineers, which based on historical accounts would have cost taxpayers more.
- “The cleanup of New York after Hurricane Sandy has cost taxpayers at least twice as much as the national post-disaster average, according to the Army Corps of Engineers, which city officials selected to help handle the huge job. Federal officials defended the exceptionally high cost — so far about $177 million for the nearly one million cubic yards of debris handled by the Army Corps — saying it was justified by the complicated assignment of quickly disposing of debris in the midst of a major urban area.” – Cost of Storm-Debris Removal in City is at least twice the U.S. Average, New York Times, Eric Lipton, April 24, 2013
Procuring Emergency Resources
- All state and federal procurement requirements were followed to be eligible for federal reimbursement. Note: Debris removal is 90 percent reimbursable through FEMA.
- The pre-event contracts that FDOT had in place prior to Hurricane Irma focused on the initial clearing of the state highway system with a limited amount of debris removal. FDOT then solicited multiple competitive bids for debris removal based on the volume of work needing to be done.
- To assist Monroe County at their request, and to support FDOT efforts to clear state highways, three emergency contracts for debris removal services were competitively procured.
- In the case of Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, FDOT solicited bids from six vendors that they believed would complete the job in a safe and efficient manner.
- The Governor is responsible for, and has the authority to, direct state resources to life safety and property protection. Beyond this responsibility, the Governor has always recognized the importance of Florida communities quickly recovering from disasters. It is this focus that enabled the Keys to re-open by October ahead of one of their largest festivals that brings thousands of tourists to the islands.
- Due to the critical need of this roadway, this service was provided at no cost to the local government and 90 percent of this cost is reimbursable through FEMA.