BioCycle October 2011, Vol. 52, No. 10, p. 24
Preplanning and education are keys to diverting woody debris from landfill.
SUMMER 2011 was bookended by extreme weather events including a rare tornado outbreak sequence, catastrophic flooding in the Midwest and a massive hurricane spanning a third of the Eastern U.S. seaboard at once. An EF5 multiple vortex tornado that ripped through Joplin, Missouri, May 22 – part of a six-day extended tornado outbreak – left 160 people dead, more than 900 injured and destroyed thousands of homes. Spring and early summer flooding in Iowa and elsewhere in the Midwest left thousands more homeless. And Hurricane Irene slammed into the Outer Banks of North Carolina and made her way up to Atlantic Canada beginning August 27, causing widespread damage due to high winds and flooding and taking some areas by surprise.
Cleaning up in the aftermath of such devastation is a monumental task involving local, regional, state and federal agencies, private entities including contractors and insurance companies and everyday citizens. When it comes to recovering material for its highest and best use following an extreme weather event, each has a critical role to play.
DEVASTATION IN JOPLIN
About two months after the tornado, C.S. Carey, Inc. based in Kansas City, Missouri was called to Joplin with its grinding equipment to assist with debris recovery. “We were in there in mid-July,” says Drew Meylan, an operations manager for C.S. Carey, which specializes in storm debris management and has participated in cleanup work following tornadoes, hurricanes and ice storms. “The first days are typically search and rescue, next comes infrastructure redevelopment [e.g., roads, power, water] and then cleanup.” The company brought its grinding equipment – including a Komptech Crambo, a Hogzilla tub grinder, a CBI 6800 and a Universal Refiner – to Joplin and contracted two more grinders and operators locally to process primarily whole trees, limbs, stumps and other vegetative debris. “We were actually pretty surprised by how clean the pile was,” Meylan says of the staging area set up on a 10-acre site just outside of Joplin. “We were expecting to see a lot of C&D and other types of material mixed in with it, but it wasn’t that bad.”
According to Bill Bider, director of the Bureau of Waste Management for the state of Kansas, it is not all that physically difficult to separate trees, limbs and other vegetative materials from other debris in the aftermath of a tornado. “Crews were able to segregate out almost all of the trees and brush – there were limited amounts that could not be separated from other debris,” Bider says. The difficulty, he adds, is getting everyone on the same page early so that recovered woody debris doesn’t become recontaminated with other materials at the staging area.
As elsewhere, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) holds the purse strings and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages operations (with U.S. EPA regulatory oversight). But what happened in Joplin and happens elsewhere, Bider explains, is the insurance companies hit the ground running. “They were paying for material to be moved well before the Army Corps and FEMA got involved.” As a result, some contamination such as roofing materials ended up in the out-of-town staging area for woody debris early on, which meant the whole pile had to be landfilled. But the situation quickly improved with the federal agencies’ involvement over the next few days. “From that point on we were in real good shape in terms of contamination,” says Bider, counseling that education is 99 percent of the battle.
The US EPA mobilized contractors to deal with hazardous materials, white goods and electronic waste, and to separate out what would be destined for either a conventional Subtitle D MSW landfill or a C&D landfill. Material to be discarded went to one of five Kansas landfills or else one in Missouri (Joplin is only a few miles from the Kansas border). Material going to a C&D landfill required additional screening both at the loading site and at the landfill, says Bider. Still, tornadoes by their very nature mix up materials and make segregation difficult, particularly considering the pressure to get back to business as usual.
Safety and efficacy are two reasons why one of the first items of business is to get educational materials into the hands of the people staging and loading waste. What ideally should happen, Bider says, is that materials get separated at the curb for delivery to separate facilities, which requires that everyone doing the separating know what goes where. “It’s easy if you can just pick material up with a big track hoe.” Neighbors pitch in to help neighbors and put everything on the curb in unsegregated piles. “People want to do things quickly, but if you don’t educate them they have eliminated recovery options.”
Oftentimes, as was true in Joplin, the sheer volume of materials needing to be either landfilled or recycled becomes the greatest challenge. “One of the first things I was asked is do we have any markets for fuel on our side of the state line,” Bider says of the processed storm debris. “There was much too much volume for just grinding it up for mulch. They were looking at everything possible to do with it.” Part of the problem with burning for fuel, both Bider and Meylan say, is markets proved to be too far away for the economics to make sense.
“One company, Green Country Soils out of Miami, Oklahoma [about 30 miles away], took quite a bit of it,” says Meylan, adding that some of the material – typically ground to 5 or 6 inches or even larger – was being used for landfill cover. Bider elaborates that wood chips were mixed with soil and used as intermediate cover to mitigate dust issues at one particular landfill located near a town. “It was a dusty, hot and windy summer, and they learned that by mixing some of the chips in with this sandy, dusty soil and wetting it down, they could cut back on dust a lot.”
About 5,000 tons/day of unrecoverable debris, weighing on average of about 350 pounds/cy, was coming out of Joplin and bound for landfill from late June through early July. “That’s a lot of trucks and a lot of traffic,” he adds. Debris was still coming out of Joplin in early October, with large structures, including the hospital and the high school, still needing to be removed.
As for what ultimately became of recovered woody debris, leaving the staging area at a rate up to 4,000 tons, or 15,000 cy daily, Meylan says: “Once it left the grind site we never knew exactly what it was used for. It became an issue toward the end to find places to go with it. We worked with people who know the mulch industry, but Kansas City is a 2-hour- plus trip and they weren’t accustomed to that amount of material. A lot of times what kills these deals is it’s so expensive to haul. Every hour in the truck is $10 a ton, and it does not have that much value. Whether it’s used as landfill cover or it goes into the hole, it’s hard to compete with $20 or $30 a ton in trucking expenses to get rid of the stuff.”
Equipment was also put to the test in Joplin. “We had just purchased a [600hp] Komptech Crambo shredder,” says Meylan, noting that there was some skepticism the engine had the horsepower to do the job required. “Especially in debris-cleanup, if you don’t have at least 1,000 horsepower they don’t want to see you. But after my tour in Joplin, they were sold. I put 100 hours on the shredder in the first eight or nine days, running it 12 to 14 hours a day, no problem. In the grinding world, that doesn’t happen. You’ve got the violent action of the hammer mill rotating at 1,200 to 1,600 rpm and you hit a rock or a piece of steel, it’s catastrophe waiting to happen. We went down there with the slow-speed Crambo and put 350 hours on that machine and never changed a tooth. If we’d had four of those we wouldn’t have needed any subcontractors and would have finished two weeks ahead of schedule, because you can plan on that consistency.”
WATERS RISE IN IOWA
“Woody debris management has been a big topic locally since 2008,” says Karmin McShane, executive director of the Cedar Rapids Lynn County Solid Waste Agency (CRLCSWA), with facilities north of Marion and in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “We implemented a biomass program because we had a significant amount of wood being landfilled before the flood and more since the 2008 disaster.” The recovered and ground wood waste, totaling more than 6,000 tons since a pilot project was launched in 2009, goes to the DTE Biomass Energy plant – which was converted from a conventional coal-burning power plant – about 100 miles away in Cassville, Wisconsin.
By contrast, more than 200,000 tons of combined debris related to flood damage have been landfilled since 2008. “FEMA came in and determined that a lot of structures in the area contained asbestos,” explains McShane. “They didn’t see the value in abating them, so the material went to the landfill and we couldn’t recover anything.” That meant around 1,000 homes and commercial structures were leveled, many with their contents intact – including appliances and hazardous materials – and hauled to landfill as “asbestos contaminated” loads at $90/ ton. The regular landfill tipping fee is $38/ton.
Red Xs or yellow Xs placed on flood-damaged structures by FEMA crews meant either “uninhabitable – do not enter” or “uninhabitable – may enter to recover” respectively, the latter providing a window of opportunity for educating residents and workers about how to recycle some contents from condemned homes. That education included handing out fliers on how to sort materials and which materials could be diverted from landfilling. A $15,000 grant from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Environmental Management System (EMS) project helped fund the deconstruction of three homes damaged by 2008 flooding, providing materials recovery training for a local demolition contractor.
The CRLCSWA currently operates two landfills and a yard waste composting facility and is piloting a food waste composting program along with its biomass project. “It’s nice to have it all integrated,” says McShane. “We see what’s going on at the landfill, and we can see what’s going into the landfill. [Recovering] wood seems to be a no brainer – it’s the low-hanging fruit.” The CRLCSWA charges $15/ton for wood- including plywood, floorboards, cupboards and painted wood (lead paint is prohibited)-that can be ground for fuel. “In some cases, City of Cedar Rapids contractors have removed hazardous materials from the flooded structures before demolition, which is really important if you want to salvage anything,” says, McShane. “In addition, the landfill fee for abated structures is lower.”
HURRICANE IRENE HAMMERS THE EAST COAST
By the time Irene made her way up to Vermont, what was at one point a Category III hurricane had weakened to a tropical storm. But the 10 to 12 inches dumped on an already saturated state caused widespread flooding and significant damage. Nearly four weeks later, officials and residents were still assessing Irene’s toll. “We’re trying to pull all that together,” says Cathy Jamieson, a supervisor with the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), Water Quality Division, of attempts to recover organic materials. “Hundreds of homes were flooded, hundreds of roads and a large number of bridges were out.” Hundreds of farmers throughout Vermont and other parts of the Northeast were also faced with the task of removing and disposing of thousands of tons of forage and vegetable crops (per federal regulations, food crops which have come into contact with flood waters may not be sold).
One step DEC took immediately was to recommend collection and proper disposal of all household hazardous waste (HHW) in order to keep it out of the waterways. “We’re trying to provide convenient locations for HHW to be dropped off and asking residents – even though they are inundated with damaged homes and property – to separate out toxic materials,” says Jamieson, who was charged with coordinating state efforts with the EPA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA.
She adds that no matter what type of storm debris management plan is in place, it’s virtually impossible to prepare for every contingency. “One thing that’s hard to plan for is what part of your transportation network will not be accessible. You might have a wonderful great [recovery] facility, but it’s not going to do much good until your transportation corridor gets fixed. Vermont east-west corridors in the south were impassable, which made transporting materials difficult.”
Lessons learned from a flood event earlier in 2011 did enable DEC to be one step ahead of Irene in at least one regard. “We had a flood last spring that was more gradual over a longer duration,” says Jamieson. “Lake Champlain was rising, and we had plenty of time to plan for how we were going to manage it. This event was very quick and destructive, and we did not have as much time to organize a plan or emergency response. But because of the earlier flood event, we already had a plan posted about how to deal with various flood-damaged materials – it helped to have that in place.”
With the USEPA assisting in implementing emergency sites for HHW collection, state emergency responders set up sites for storm debris. “Woody debris has been removed from the streams and rivers and temporarily staged,” says Jamieson. “There is quite a volume. It was a less imminent need than HHW.” It could be weeks to months before the volume is calculated and processed. She adds that only clean wood, i.e., containing no finishes, can be accepted at biomass plants in Vermont. “Their air permits only allow them to burn clean wood, not anything that is painted or treated.” Any other woody debris will go to one of two active Vermont landfills.
Longtime BioCycle Contributing Editor Robert Spencer was literally at his first day on the job as interim director of the Windham Solid Waste Management District (WSWMD) in Brattleboro – a community particularly hard hit by the storm – when Irene came knocking in southern Vermont. During the first days of the storm, Spencer’s predecessor emailed him a snapshot of a 30-cubic-yard community recycling bin floating down the Deerfield River (never to be seen again) with the message, “Bob, it gets better than this.”
As director of WSWMD, Spencer was charged with coordinating the following:
• Preparing a storm debris management plan to submit to DEC.
• Communicating options for waste and debris disposal to member communities, including updates on storm debris response on the WSWMD website.
• Distributing flyers to towns and posting and emailing them throughout the region within the first 48 hours.
• Securing approval for household hazardous waste drop-off at WSWMD’s central location – beyond the HHW materials it is approved to receive (flammables, pesticides, etc.), and usually only taken on specific dates through a licensed contractor.
• Organizing “Rural Rover” HHW collections in towns requesting them (only three towns did).
• Tracking costs and staff time related to storm response for submittal to FEMA (which picked up 75 percent of cleanup costs).
• Preparing insurance claims for damaged or missing recycling containers (including the one that floated down the Deerfield River).
• Recovering collected recyclables and disposing of those that are either too water saturated or silt-ridden for processing.
“The districts responded pretty much on their own with a whole array of services,” says Spencer, adding that these services were coordinated and synced through the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (which will cover the remaining 25 percent of cleanup costs incurred by the solid waste districts). Needs and services varied by community, he adds. “We had some areas where residents’ basements and businesses were flooded, and others where roads were completely washed out but there was not much damage to residences or businesses.” In Brattleboro, Spencer says, the entire downtown commercial district was under water. “We had warning, but the severity of the storm was obviously not anticipated nor was it anticipated how fast the rivers would rise.”
SPARED BUT NOT UNSCATHED
Considering that the eye of Irene passed right over Norfolk, Virginia, even before it had been downgraded to a tropical storm, the region fared pretty well. According to Bob Broom of McGill Environmental – which composts 175,000 tons of combined yard trimmings, food waste and biosolids annually at its Waverly, Virginia site about 50 miles west of Norfolk – part of the reason there was not more damage due to flooding was that the tide at the time was moving water out of the Chesapeake Bay instead of moving it in. Despite the break from Mother Nature, there remained a significant quantity of storm debris to be managed.
“We have yard waste contracts with the cities of Virginia Beach and Norfolk and a large more rural county, Isle of White,” says Broom. Having those contracts in place was critical to capturing woody debris before it went to landfill, he adds, which is too often the case following a big storm. “We’re taking in huge amounts of wood waste and other yard debris just as part of our yard waste contracts. Normally city trucks collect yard waste four days a week, but they’re operating seven days week and bringing in a lot more material. We can’t take it all, and we’re under a certain amount of pressure from DEQ [Virginia Department of Environmental Quality] to move it out quickly.”
A big impetus to move material fast relates to regulator concerns about nutrient runoff into the Chesapeake Bay from grass clippings and other debris that could break down quickly, notes Broom. While the majority of debris after a storm – such as tree limbs and brush and pine needles – is carbon-based, regulators tend to treat it equally with manure and grass clippings even though it is less volatile. “Unfortunately, it gets rushed off to the landfill,” he says. “There’s no timescale in place to be able to collect more organics before that happens. It’s not something you can decide at the time of a storm event. It would have to be a policy in place by DEQ combined with contracts to emphasize recycling as much as possible. I feel the environment would benefit if we just slowed down a little and reviewed the existing options. If that is a landfill, then so be it.”
According to Broom, McGill has been able to recover approximately 50 percent of the material left in the wake of Irene within the communities it serves, and has coordinated with temporary storm debris haulers preselected by the municipalities to take any overflow. “It’s an example of something working quite well,” he says, adding that it could have been better with some simple upfront planning. “We could have handled more if some simple separation of clean and plastic-contaminated loads had been planned into the operation. We take in about 50,000 tons/year through our yard waste contracts, spread out over the year, which is quite manageable. The spike we’re getting from the hurricane is about as big as the rest of the leaf season. But we do need the wood, and we’re very pleased to get it.”
A STUMP TO GRIND
ACE Gallagher Stump Grinding Service, LLC, of Whippany, New Jersey, was still keeping busy in the aftermath of Irene a full month after the storm passed through. “I think it’s going to go on for awhile, to be honest with you,” says proprietor Thomas “Ace” Gallagher. “What we’re dealing with is a lot of trees that fell down – largely oak trees. Basically we’re cleaning them up and grinding the stumps.”
Because the area – north central New Jersey – is so rocky, the trees are not very deeply rooted. Saturated ground combined with winds gusting into trees still laden with leaves causes them to “parachute” or uproot. While a common method of removing a stump from a property once it’s lying on its side is to simply lift it onto a truck with a front-end loader and haul it to the landfill, Gallagher takes a different approach.
“I grind up the entire thing to where it all stays on the property,” he says. “Everything falls back into the hole that it belongs in.” Gallagher says this saves the customer money and makes sense environmentally. “And they don’t have to truck in new material to fill the hole.” Gallagher relies on his Bandit 2150 XP diesel stump grinder to get the job done. “I’ve had it for about a year and a half,” he says. “It works really well. It’s four-wheel drive, for one thing – when grinding an uprooted stump you are almost creating a mountain it has to climb and get to the top.” Six flotation tires (a double set up front) turned by four separate hydraulic motors offer width, stability and plenty of traction without tearing up lawns, he adds. The grinder itself is powered by a 35 HP Kubota engine.
EPA UPDATES DISASTER DEBRIS MANAGEMENT GUIDE
IN 2008, U.S. EPA released an updated guide, Planning for Natural Disaster Debris, a document first published in 1995. It is designed for local communities interested in creating a disaster debris management plan, with recommendations, management options for various debris streams, case studies of how recent disasters were managed and resources (federal, state and local) for consulting about plans. It provides communities with disaster debris information consistent with current Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) guidelines and stresses the importance of managing waste created by natural disasters in a manner that protects the environment. According to the EPA, the benefits of putting a recovery plan in place before a disaster occurs include: Reducing time needed to identify debris management options after a disaster; Saving money by avoiding rushed decisions that could result in costly mistakes in disaster waste management; and Reducing potential hazards by identifying which hazards may exist, who will address them and how. For a copy of the debris management guide, go to: www.epa.gov/ epaoswer/non-hw/debris-new/disaster.htm.
BEST PRACTICES FOR MATERIALS RECOVERY STAGING
STATE of Kansas Bureau of Waste Management Director Bill Bider is a veteran of large-scale cleanups following big storms, including a string of tornadoes that ravaged the Midwest this past spring between May 21 and 26. Based on years of experience, here’s what Bider recommends for setting up a storm debris recovery staging area. All recoverable wastes should be segregated and placed on the right- of-way (near the curb) for special pickup. If the level of segregation outlined below takes place, the remaining mixed debris should be suitable for delivery to either a construction and demolition landfill or an MSW landfill. “In Kansas, we would require a second level of screening at C&D landfills but not MSW landfills for chemical containers, e-waste, tires and white goods,” says Bider.
Trees and brush for processing and/or burning: Without knowing whether all woody waste can be processed and used for mulch, compost or fuel, the staging areas should be ideally suitable for potential on-site burning if necessary (meaning adequate separation distance from residences, schools, commercial establishments, etc.).
Clean rubble processing site(s): This is for concrete, brick, etc., and adequate separation distances from public areas are also necessary due to noise, traffic and dust generation. This collection of clean rubble will usually occur after other debris is picked up and hauled away for disposal and recycling.
Recyclable metal: This area will receive various types of bent and twisted sheet metal, empty tanks, etc. Enough space is required for operating mobile compaction/baling equipment. While white goods could be included, a separate area may be preferred because of the need to remove freon (CFCs) and spoiled food.
Vehicle storage: Many vehicles will be hauled off by insurance companies, but many will be staged for later processing and recovery. This area may need to be quite large, depending upon the size of the affected community.
Household hazardous waste/chemical storage: This area should be lined and bermed to contain any spills. If the tornado impact is large like in Joplin, EPA emergency responders are usually tasked with this duty. If the tornado impact is small, local government will be responsible.
E-waste: A separate electronic waste staging area is desirable, because the collector will most likely only be focused on these materials.
Waste tires: A tire staging area is needed, because like e-waste waste tires will be picked up be a specialized recycler or disposal company.