Grinding out progress in Florida’s hurricane cleanup

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The recent onslaught of Florida’s west coast, central region and, most recently, panhandle by Hurricanes Charley, Frances and Ivan, demanded extraordinary efforts by companies charged with the cleanup. Spearheading that effort, Brooksville, Florida-based Grubbs Emergency Services LLC, has contracted with scores of subcontractors to reduce the massive volumes of felled trees, severed limbs and other debris. For years now, one of Grubbs’ mainstay subs in any effort of this size has been Consolidated Resource Recovery and this cleanup was no exception. Even as the cleanup from Charley was in its early stages, Consolidated already had no fewer than 15 Morbark grinders at work at various key points in areas hardest hit by the storms.

“No-Name” Beginnings
The relationship between Grubbs and Consolidated is symbiotic, to say the least. Grubbs’ specialty is helping return normalcy to an area that has just suffered a catastrophic blow — often, but not always from Mother Nature — and Consolidated’s role is providing the equipment to make that happen. Together they pack a formidable one-two punch in storm cleanup, says Brian Thomason, Grubbs’ Assistant Vice President.

“Our own roots date back to 1993 when we developed a division specifically for disaster recovery,” he says. “In the ‘no-name’ storm of that year we assisted the county we lived in with their debris removal process. As we got further into it we realized that debris removal was a lot more than simply picking up branches, grinding them and getting rid of the debris. As a result of that effort, we’ve grown to where we are today: providing a turnkey service supporting applicants — the counties, the cities, the affected municipalities — with technical assistance in debris management.”

Thomason says much of that work is done under FEMA’s public assistance program after an area has received a disaster declaration, since rules and regulations applied to disaster areas differ greatly from those in place to deal with a normal solid waste stream. A good example of this is determining who will pay the costs, since the amount of debris generated in a storm like the ones in Florida can be well over three to four times what a municipality handles in a full year. “We work to establish temporary storage and reduction sites to reduce volumes and save space in area landfills. In addition, we work with the applicants through the State and Federal programs to document the debris process properly to support their reimbursement claims.”

Thomason adds that Grubbs’ standard practice is to establish pre-positioned contracts to provide their services. “Those contracts can be anywhere from three to five years in length,” he says. “You never know when a disaster will strike but when it does, it helps tremendously to have our prices and services in place and already negotiated.”

A Consolidated Effort
One of the first steps taken by Grubbs after Hurricane Charley had finally exited Florida, was to assess the situation and begin to establish temporary debris storage and reduction sites (TDSRS) throughout the region. Those sites, essentially drop-off points for an unending stream of debris-laden trucks of all sizes and configurations, vary in size from a few acres, to better than 30 acres.

“One of our largest is a site known as the Jetta Point TDSRS in northeast Orlando which, when all is wrapped up, will probably handle in excess of nine million yards of debris. We have 16 such sites throughout the affected areas and Consolidated has a major presence in five of the larger ones.”

Thomason says Grubbs has relied heavily upon Consolidated for years and views them as a key player in the success they’ve enjoyed. “We’ve had an excellent relationship with Consolidated since about 1998 and, because they are one of our primary subcontractors, we’ve worked with them on just about every disaster or storm cleanup we’ve done. In a business like ours, equipment obviously plays a major role. Massive volumes of material continually pour into these sites and to tackle that you need a company with the necessary equipment to process it. However, equally important is the fact that, if a breakdown occurs, the grinding company is capable of getting the unit back up and running. It’s very important to have a company like Consolidated that understands that process and knows how to get it done.”

Having the Horsepower
Providing the muscle to make Grubbs’ plans work is essentially what Consolidated brings to the post-storm cleanup effort in Florida. Because of the sheer volumes being dealt with, company president Steve Lubbers likes to look at it as “having the horsepower to make it happen.”

“Part of what makes us a valuable contributor to Grubbs’ efforts is the fact that we have so many grinders available for a job of this size. We have 15 active grinders including everything from several Morbark 1300 tubs up to a Model 6600 Wood Hog and we are just about to take delivery on a track-mounted Model 6600. That track hog, by nature of its mobility and ability to work in wet conditions will be an excellent addition to the fleet.”

Lubbers says he has relied solely on Morbark equipment since getting into wood waste processing in 1989. “It’s all about a level of satisfaction and reliability.” he says. “Our first piece of equipment was a Morbark waste recycler and when they announced they were going to introduce a tub grinder — and explained what they felt it could do — we knew it was what we needed to grow this part of the business. We bought three of the first four they ever made and I believe the Track Hog we just ordered was something like our 57th piece of Morbark equipment. We’re that committed to them.”

Only Good if it’s Working
In an undertaking as massive as the one currently in place in Florida, keeping equipment running is, perhaps, the most challenging facet of the job. Grinders have been brought in from all over the country to grind, literally until they can grind no more. In light of that, the company with the most comprehensive maintenance program and inventory of parts will almost always fare better than those for whom maintenance is an afterthought. Lubbers says equipment maintenance and parts inventory are — and have always been — standard operating procedure for Consolidated.

“Our attention to maintenance probably borders on overkill, but we simply cannot afford to have a grinder down for any reason. We carry a $200,000 inventory of replacement parts for those grinders in nearby Bradenton because if they’re not working we’re not making money. Granted, that might seem like a lot of money, but if we are down, we can suffer anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000 a day in lost income. Mind you, Morbark has always provided excellent service and support and, in fact, has a parts shop right here in central Florida. However, we choose to avoid the risk of any circumstance that can have a grinder down for any length of time. When a site has eight trucks dumping debris at a time, with 30 more staged for dumping up all day — as we’re seeing at Jetta Point — downtime isn’t an option. As a result, we rarely have any. That’s a testimony both to how well we maintain the grinders, and how well Morbark designs and builds them in the first place.”

In it for the Long Haul
Grubbs’ Thomason estimates that his company will probably be maintaining many of the TDSRS sites for as long as nine months. “As things progress, we often end up getting debris brought in from some residents that can’t afford it. We also might have to do some demolition — particularly in the Punta Gorda area which was hit extremely hard — and that resultant debris will need to be disposed of properly. The job’s not over once the stuff’s off the street.”

He adds that they currently have more than 3,000 people working the cleanup on this project alone; the majority of whom are subcontracted personnel. Once it is run through the grinder, material is being removed for use or disposal at a number of sites throughout the state. “We really couldn’t just stockpile this volume of material and leave it for the pubic to come and remove for their own use; it would literally be here forever. So we have found other reuse and recycling facilities that will take it. Some will color it as mulch, others will use it as daily landfill cover, much of it will be simply landfilled.

“I personally believe that the yardage from this disaster will bypass that of Andrew, and that storm generated 13 million yards. We rely on companies like Consolidated Resource Recovery to keep things moving and we are very fortunate to have them as a big player in a scenario like this. They live and die by their machines and, as a result, we know we can count on them to perform here and when the next big one hits.”

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