The storm that struck South Jersey two weeks ago has generated more debris than most municipalities have ever experienced, and officials say cleanup will take anywhere from two weeks to more than a month.
Methods for clearing the debris will vary, as some towns are bringing in private contractors to reinforce their public works crews, while others are taking their time with the staff they have.
“We’ve picked up 1,000 yards of debris every day,” Egg Harbor Township Administrator Peter Miller said. “The volume of debris generated by this event — we can’t compare it to anything.”
In several Atlantic County municipalities, some of the clearing work is done by the Atlantic County Utilities Authority, which has contracts to collect yard debris with many municipalities in the county.
But the amount of wooded debris is so much, that the pickup schedule is running about two weeks behind, ACUA President Rick Dovey said.
Egg Harbor Township, which includes 68 square miles of land, spent about two weeks clearing debris from Tropical Storm Irene last year.
After two weeks of cleanup from the June 30 storm, Miller said he believed a minimum of another four weeks would be needed, particularly because in some areas that have been cleared, more storm debris has shown up.
Residents of Atlantic and Cumberland counties, whose properties were hit hardest by the storm, have been told to drag their downed tree branches and other wooded debris to the curb for pickup.
Most municipalities have told residents that as long as they can pull the branches to the curb, the debris will be collected.
Some municipalities have said particularly bulky items, such as tree stumps, may require residents to call contractors or to take the material themselves to disposal sites the county operates.
Miller said the work might continue through much of August and end by Labor Day.
The cost to the township is estimated at about $250,000, including overtime and disposal costs, Miller said. If the region receives federal disaster relief funds, the township would be reimbursed for 75 percent of those costs.
In Vineland, some residents don’t have enough room on their street curb to accommodate all of the tree debris they have, Public Works Superintendent Mark Guglielmi said. In those cases, residents have to wait for crews to make a first pass at clearing the debris before carting out more, he said.
Other residents, due to insurance questions, have been slow in pulling their debris to the front. That means that even though crews have cleared a quarter of the city, they likely will have to return to those areas for another round of pickups.
Because there is so much debris, Vineland has asked for permission to set up eight temporary dumping sites to which crews will haul the tree remnants, Guglielmi said. Once the street-clearing is finished, the city will then move to dispose of the debris from those eight sites.
The price for the work — clearing debris from 69 square miles of Vineland — is estimated to cost $500,000, Guglielmi said.
Dovey said he believes that in two weeks, the ACUA should be caught up.
But even in towns with an ACUA contract, the tree branches are so much bigger than what the utility can accept. So public works crews in several municipalities also have had to mobilize to deal with those large pieces.
Northfield Mayor Vince Mazzeo said that after Tropical Storm Irene, the town had 88 tons of debris. But the June 30 storm has generated 100 tons, which may double by the time the work is finished, he said.
Mazzeo estimated the work will take about two to three weeks to finish. While the public works crews will be picking up bulky items, they won’t be able to pick up tree stumps and other oversized debris. In those cases, homeowners should make other arrangements, he said.
“It’s going to have to be some responsibility on the owner,” Mazzeo said.
Northfield resident Glenn Raph, 49, had a large tree hanging sideways onto his neighbor’s property, although the rest of his yard was cleared. Rather than wait for the city, Raph said he called a childhood friend who operates a tree business for help, although he will have to wait for service.
“He’s so backed up,” Raph said of his friend.
Others, such as Mike and Jean Kelly, said they were just pleased the city was picking up the debris given the amount produced by the storm.
“The way the area is, I’m very happy,” said Mike Kelly, 64.
Linwood also is behind schedule when it comes to storm pickup, but that is because the city lacked the necessary equipment for bulky items, Public Works Director Hank Kolakowski said. After securing a promise of funds from the city, Kolakowski said he has contracted with an outside firm that has the equipment and staff for that kind of heavy-duty work.
At the same time, residents also should try to cut up their tree debris into smaller pieces and leave it out as part of their weekly ACUA pickup, Kolakowski said. The city has a contract with the ACUA.
“Utilize that contract as much as you can,” he said.
Other municipalities, such as Absecon, said that while they have a contract with ACUA for the typical yard debris, for the large items, they are trying to do all of the work themselves.
City Administrator Terry Dolan said crews — six employees — are slowly progressing through the work, placing storm debris into seven 40-yard containers that have been distributed across Absecon.
“I’m guessing it could easily go another four to six weeks,” Dolan said, adding that he has not authorized overtime for the work. “We’re trying to do it all as straight time. ... Our streets are very wide. We’re fine. The streets are open. They’re not unsafe.”
Atlantic County closes disposal sites
Two debris disposal sites in Atlantic County that were set up July 7 to allow residents to get rid of tree debris from the June 30 storm were shut down at 5 p.m. Sunday. There are no plans to reopen the sites at Riverbend Park in Egg Harbor Township and Estell Manor Park, a news release issued by the county states.
Contact Hoa Nguyen: