Debris removal pushes ahead toward 'substantial completion' by Thanksgiving in Collier County

Laura Layden
Naples Daily News

The approach to removing the mountains of debris from Hurricane Ian will soon change in Naples — and elsewhere in Collier County.

While the county-hired contractor initially zeroed in on heavily flooded areas, such as Gulf Shore Boulevard in the city, it will shortly shift to a routes and grid pattern for curbside collection.

Construction and demolition debris has been the primary target, but with headway made on that front, piles of landscaping along the streets will start to get more attention and disappear.

The collection of so-called "white goods," or appliances, such as stoves and refrigerators, or water heaters, could take a bit longer.

In case you missed it:How long will it take to remove damaged home debris in Collier? Until Thanksgiving

More:Hurricane Ian debris removal efforts underway in Collier County: What you need to know

Clean-up efforts are underway on Isles of Capri in Collier County. Hauling units are out all over the county. All of Southwest Florida is working on removing debris left behind by Hurricane Ian on Sept. 28, 2022.

Michelle Baines, the city's interim utility director, shared the update at a City Council meeting Monday, during a discussion on Ian recovery.

So far, the contractor AshBritt Inc. has removed 228,313 cubic yards of debris in the city alone: Roughly 160,000 of construction and demolition waste and 68,000 vegetative. That translates to more than 4,300 truckloads of wreckage.

During her brief presentation, Baines reminded council members, residents and other property owners that debris removal started less than four weeks ago.

"We know that it feels like a lifetime for a lot of people," she said. "There has been a lot of progress to date." 

At first, the focus centered around health and safety, with the removal of debris from streets, storm drains and parking lots taking priority, Baines explained.

Crews scoop up debris from Hurricane Ian along Gordon Drive in Naples, FL, on Wednesday, October 5, 2022.

Now, the contractor is working toward completing the first pass of all areas with hurricane debris, while still addressing problem spots as they arise, before moving to a more patterned predictable approach, she said.

"We are riding the streets daily," Baines said.

Without the county's help, Bob Middleton, the city's interim director of streets and stormwater, said: "We would be months behind on this job."

"The concern is how fast can we go," he said. "We are moving at a very fast pace, a record pace, compared to previous storms." 

More than 200 trucks are working from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week to get the city and county cleaned up, as quickly, but as safely as possible, said Kari Hodgson, director of the county's solid and hazardous waste management division.

The goal remains the same: to reach "substantial completion" by Thanksgiving, which is now less than a month away. 

"We are dedicated to restoring our paradise,"  Hodgson said.

The contractor is removing 20,000 to 30,000 cubic yards of debris a day across the county.

"They have seen a lot of flood scenarios. So they've got experience," Hodgson said.

Countywide, more than 864,000 cubic yards of debris have been removed to date. That's enough to fill more than 261 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

While the city has the biggest share of that total, North Naples comes in second, with more than 213,604 cubic yards of debris collected thus far.

Although some residents have complained they've been skipped over, Hodgson said there are likely good reasons for it, from piles blocked by low-hanging trees or placed too close to power lines to failure to properly sort debris into separate piles for garbage, yard waste, furniture and other bulky waste, appliances and construction and demolition materials.

"We are coming back," Hodgson said. "We are not done."

Mike Zukley throws flood damaged drywall onto a pile of debris after a house was flooded by Hurricane Ian in Naples, FL, on Wednesday, October 5, 2022.

She acknowledged that as winter residents return over the next few months, the county could see a new wave of waste end up at the curb in the city and elsewhere, as they begin to deal with the massive damage wrought by Ian.

However, she stressed the contractor will "hang around as long as we need them to," until the job gets done.

Currently, there is no deadline for the clean-up effort, which is expected to run through early next year.

For a real-time look, the county's dashboard on debris removal can be found here: colliercountyfl.gov/government/public-utilities/solid-hazardous-waste/hurricane-preparedness.