Southeast
Rebecca Blackwell / AP Photo

FL - Hurricane Ian left behind tons of debris. Here's how Florida officials are getting rid of it.

Images from the aftermath of Hurricane Ian sent shockwaves across the world.

Cities, bridges and entire islands were completely leveled when Ian made landfall as a fierce Category 4 hurricane in southwestern Florida in late September. Now, just over a month after Ian's landfall, residents are still trying to pick up the pieces, and collection trucks continue to remove piles upon piles of heavy debris. However, the tons of debris that litter the roads and fill people's homes doesn't just disappear.

The long, slow and grueling road to recovery includes a plan that was put in place well before Ian became a topic of discussion, and it includes specific details on who handles the debris and where it goes.

CrowderGulf Joint Venture, a disaster recovery company, is in charge of all the debris removal in the city of Fort Myers, Sanibel, Fort Myers Beach, Bonita Springs and the village of Estero and Lee County unincorporated areas.

"Under [the] contract, we're tasked with the full process of debris management," Reid Loper, vice president of CrowderGulf, told AccuWeather, explaining that CrowderGulf is in charge of removing construction debris, electronic waste, household hazardous waste, vegetative debris and large appliances like refrigerators, microwaves, AC units and ovens. "Once that debris is collected and hauled, it then goes to what we call debris management sites" or DMS.

Once it arrives at the DMS, which is a temporary storage and processing facility that was planned and pre-approved well before the storm or disaster struck, it is sorted into temporary rows. Loper noted that each type of debris is kept separate from one another because the end destination for each category of debris is different.

Both vegetation and construction debris are lined up into separate rows, which then get fed into "powerful grinders" to be reduced. Ground-up vegetation debris can be reused in many different ways, ranging from mulch to biomass fuel to landfill cover, but ground-up construction debris has to be disposed of in a construction and demolition landfill.

Adam Babich, a Tulane University environmental law professor, explained there are different types of landfills: municipal solid waste landfills and construction and demolition (C&D) landfills. While municipal solid waste landfills have a liner, protecting the potentially hazardous material from getting into the groundwater, C&D types are not federally required to have that liner. Simply put, C&D landfills are only supposed to contain construction and demolition materials, which typically do not cause a threat to the surrounding groundwater.

Even though Lee County has asked residents to separate their debris into four different categories -- household garbage, vegetative debris, construction debris and appliances -- sometimes things can slip through the cracks. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has contracted debris technical monitors to oversee the temporary disposal sites to ensure no hazardous or unwanted materials are sorted into the wrong category.

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