Hurricane season ends, massive cleanup goes on

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As the end of the 2004 hurricane season approaches, Florida residents are breathing a collective sigh of relief that they made it through this period of unprecedented severity. For those heavily involved in the ongoing cleanup effort however, the beat simply goes on. Firms working areas hardest hit by one or more of the season's killer storms - Florida's Treasure Coast, for example, which took hits from Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne - continue to process massive volumes of wood waste and other debris. One such company, C & C Loaders, Inc., acting as a subcontractor to disaster specialists Phillips & Jordan, has crews dedicated to two sites in the West Palm Beach area. Even now, months after the last storm's departure, they continue to grind waste for 12 hours a day, down significantly from the round-the-clock efforts following each event but, nevertheless still a challenge.

Change in Plans
In business since 1978, West Palm Beach-based C&C Loaders is essentially a land development company. According to company owner and president John Choquette, the firm specializes in clearing of acreage, grinding, creation of mulch, and subsequent sale of that mulch to those who colorize it. Like it did for many such companies in Florida, all that changed in September of this year.

'Hurricane Frances left the area on the 6 th of September and within two days material was already being collected as part of the cleanup effort headed up by FEMA and the Solid Waste Authority of West Palm Beach. We are a subcontractor to Phillips & Jordan and got the call to mobilize so we were in place at two sites in the West Palm Beach area and grinding by the 13 th . That five-day lag presented some initial challenges however, since, in that time, more than 40,000 yards of material had been stockpiled at each site. We had no alternative but to grind round-the-clock to try to make a dent in the stockpiled debris, while, at the same time, addressing new material that was continually being dropped off. We did that for about three weeks straight until we were at a point where we felt we could back off a bit.'

Obviously, dedicating such resources to the cleanup effort places a strain on Choquette's other, more traditional development projects to which his company is committed.

'It is really something of a balancing act right now,' he says. 'I have several projects in place which are reaching the point where grinding of material onsite is needed. Because I only have two grinders, both of which are tied up doing debris cleanup, I am doing everything I can at the new projects up to the point where grinding is needed. Once I wrap up here I will move over to the new sites and help those move along. It's really been a challenge.'

Strike Two
Unlike the rest of the state, Florida's east coast had the unfortunate distinction of taking direct hits from two hurricanes - Frances and Jeanne - in almost identical locations. As a result, damage that was partial from Frances, became total after Jeanne, and the volume of debris reflected that.

'We are processing material at two sites, John Prince Park and a Wallis Street location adjacent to West Palm Beach International airport,' says Choquette. 'Each of these sites is yielding unbelievable volumes of material. In fact, by the time we are completely through, I would guess that we will have processed as much as 1.3 million yards of material.'

Choquette adds that there are two other additional processing sites in the West Palm Beach area which will yield about another million yards of debris. 'Those numbers really allow you to get a handle on the degree of damage this area has suffered.'

More Than Just Numbers
Processing the green waste at each of the two sites is done using a pair of Morbark horizontal grinders; a Model 7600 at the John Prince Park location and a track-mounted Model 5600 at the Wallis Ave. site. According to Choquette, each unit has its own particular strengths.

'The 7600 is just an amazing workhorse for us,' he says. 'The sheer processing capability has made it impossible for me to take a loader away from the discharge chute. If I do, material piles up so quickly that we have to back off waiting for the loader to get caught up; it's that productive.

The track-mounted unit in place at Wallis Ave., on the other hand, benefits us by nature of its mobility. It is very easy to move the unit throughout the site, from pile to pile as needed. It is also able to move about freely regardless of the soil conditions. So, whereas the 7600 might be limited to where it can be placed, the 5600 just tracks on over and gets to work.

He adds that the unit provides similar benefits in C & C's regular projects as well. 'In the past, we've had jobs where we would have had to wait for the site development crew to dig a rim ditch to dry the site out before we could grind. Now we just go in and start grinding.'

Support for C & C's grinding equipment - obviously critical in a situation such as this - has been excellent, says Choquette. 'I've been fortunate in that when I need support, Morbark has a parts shop in Sarasota, so the deliveries are fast and downtime is almost nonexistent. There are a lot of grinders out there, and some probably compare similarly to mine in production. But with any of those, a breakdown would mean at least three to four days of lost production and that would just be disastrous for me. I really can't say enough about the support I've gotten from Morbark throughout this project.'

Back to 'Normal'
Processing at the John Prince Park location is already winding down and Choquette estimates that his total involvement in West Palm Beach debris processing will wrap up around the first of the year. At that time he will begin to shift his focus back toward his development projects already in progress.

'It's going to be hectic for a bit while we get caught up on those jobs,' he says. 'But it will still pale by comparison to what we are doing for the cleanup. At the two processing sites, we are grinding about 10 1/2 hours a day - with an hour and a half dedicated to maintenance - and are averaging between 8,000 and 9,000 yards a day per machine. That's definitely a tough act to follow.'

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