LUMBERTON — Since Hurricane Matthew, enough debris has been picked up in Lumberton to cover half of Washington, D.C. and outweigh 30 blue whales.
The October storm flooded much of the city and caused damage throughout Robeson County. As the water subsided, the cleanup effort began and brought in unprecedented amounts of demolition and vegetative debris.
That removal of 3,000 tons of demolition debris — including such things as Sheetrock, carpet, flooring and furniture — is about 60 percent complete, according to Rob Armstrong, Public Works director. Armstrong hopes to have all debris eligible to be picked up hauled off by Christmas.
The city has paid Southern Disaster Recovery $300,000 for the work, which the city will be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Pickup of the vegetative debris is 85 percent done and should be finished in January.
The contractor has been running up to 22 trucks, seven days a week. But as the focus changes from demolition debris and tree limbs to tree stumps and electrical goods, more specialized vehicles such as cranes are being used. Currently Southern Disaster Recovery has 14 trucks on the roads.
Not all debris is eligible to be picked up by contractors. FEMA considers leaves and pine straw as items that would have fallen to the ground regardless of Hurricane Matthew so they are not picked up
“FEMA only allows us to pick up on the right-of-way,” Armstrong said. “A large pile may be in front of a house, but they can only pick up half as not all of it is on the right-of-way.”
Finding the right spot to put debris is not easy.
“The right-of-way is different in specific places,” Armstrong said. “Generally … it’s 27 and a half feet from the middle of the road.”
If debris is situated in a position the contractor cannot pick it up, permission must be granted by homeowners and approved by FEMA on a case-by-case basis.
No debris can be picked up from commercial enterprises, something which has cause problems on West Fifth Street in Lumberton. According to Armstrong, debris from small, non-franchise businesses can be cleared if special permission is granted from FEMA.
One thing that is not covered in the current pickup is new debris. Many houseowners affected by flooding gutted their houses and brought the debris to be picked up, but after the initial trash was picked up more has been put in its place. This second round of debris will likely not be picked up.
The demolition debris is being carried to the Robeson County landfill in St. Pauls, but the vegetative waste is being reused in a green way. It is being staged at a site off of Saxton Avenue, and will eventually be gound by a chipper and used for fuel.
Reach Mike Gellatly via Twitter @MikeGellatly