Recovering from Hurricane Laura is tough enough for residents in West Calcasieu, but to have a incessant reminder piled in front of your home makes it a battle each and every day.
The mounds of debris that line Sulphur streets are slowly dissipating and Mayor Mike Danahay is asking residents to be patient while companies team up to whisk away reminders of Laura’s devastation.
“Debris removal is actually going quite well under the circumstances,” Danahay said. “What people may not know is that we’ve been under contract with the company who does debris removal for years, so immediately after Laura hit, they went into action and within three days they began the process of removal.”
Crowder Gulf is the company tasked with removing the mountains of trees, limbs, lumber and other debris that collapsed under the onslaught of the hurricane’s 120-130 mph winds. According to the mayor, the company has faced many community disasters over the years, but was a little taken aback by Laura’s carnage.
“This is one of the largest debris removal companies in the world and they’ve been doing this a long time,” Danahay said. “They told me it was one of the worst disasters they have ever handled.”
The arduous job of removing debris is divided into two categories. Crowder Gulf is currently removing vegetation debris first, before moving on to construction debris. It’s not a simple process. As with most community disasters, the federal government comes into play. In order to be reimbursed by FEMA for debris removal, companies such Crowder Gulf has to follow guidelines. One of those is to be monitored by a second company in order to keep an accurate measure of cubic yards removed. The job of monitoring removal falls on Tetra Tech Inc., which is also on the ground in Southwest Louisiana for the duration.
What may seem like utter chaos to residents, is actually a plan that Crowder Gulf utilizes to ensure organized debris removal. “You may see them remove vegetation on one street and then skip over to another area and begin removal there,” Danahay explained. “It’s a method to their madness. And they may make multiple passes over time in every area. You could have home owners who cut or remove trees long after the storm — that has to be removed as well.”
Unfortunately, not every structure in the city is subject to Crowder Gulf’s services. Residential areas certainly are, but the city has had to gain permission of FEMA for the removal of debris on small commercial properties. Larger commercial sites are responsible for their own removal. “It’s a safety factor … basically,” Danahay said.
As far as a timeline for moving on to construction debris removal (lumber and bricks etc.), the mayor said there isn’t any set schedule. “These guys have spent as much as a year on a community disaster project,” Danahay said.
So where exactly will the tons of debris end up? For now, Crowder Gulf transports vegetation debris to the old West Cal Cam Fairgrounds site on North Lewis Street in Sulphur. The vegetation is then fed through wood chippers before ending up at landfills. Once they begin removing construction debris, it will be compressed out at the fairgrounds site before transportation to landfills.