Debris from Virgin Islands may go to Okeechobee landfill

OKEECHOBEE — Hurricane debris from hurricanes Irma and Maria that hit the Virgin Islands in 2017 may go to the Okeechobee Landfill.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has contracted with a barge company to haul away construction and demolition (C&D) debris. Waste Management (WM), which operates the Okeechobee landfill, is among the subcontractors bidding on the contract to haul the debris from the port to a landfill. If WM gets the contract, it could add more than $300,000 to the county’s general fund.

The contract will involve an estimated 100,000 tons of C&D debris. The debris will be inspected before it is loaded on barges.

The debris will be inspected and approved prior to entering the State of Florida.

According to the staff report, the project is under the control of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which includes the inspection, permitting and acceptance by Federal and State of Florida Authorities for the proper disposal of waste materials. All required inspection, permitting and acceptance documents will be provided to Okeechobee County by Waste Management, Inc.

Per their contract with the county, Waste Management cannot accept debris from outside the state without approval from the county commission. If granted, the county may impose conditions upon the acceptance including, but not limited to, duration, tonnage, source and host fee or solid waste trust fund surcharges.

The proposal is for the debris to be hauled to the Port of Fort Pierce and off loaded onto semi-trucks every seven days. Each barge is estimated to equal 12 to 15 truck loads of debris and the truck route will be State Road 70 to Northeast 128th Avenue to Okeechobee Landfill. The proposed time frame for transportation of the debris is from July to October 2018. Waste Management has agreed to adjust the landfill operating hours, if needed, to accommodate the additional truck traffic to avoid heavy traffic and safety issues, with no special reductions for that waste entering the local landfill.

Since this is out-of-state debris, the amended host fee agreement, which included a reduction in rates, does not apply. Under the original agreement, the fee to the county would be $3.31 per ton. The amended in-state rate is $2.54 per ton.

Commissioner Brad Goodbread noted there is competition for this waste from other landfills and other waste haulers.

“It’s a government project. They are just seeking alternatives for disposal,” said Jeff Sabin, of Waste Management. He said approval or denial is at the discretion of the Okeechobee County Commission.

“It’s a straight forward U.S. Army Corps of Engineers bid,” he said. “All we have been asked for is a price or a rate.

“I know there is capacity to the north and capacity to the south for this type of debris,” he said. However, it would take up a lot of the airspace in the islands, so the Corps’ plan is to haul it by barge to the east coast.

Commissioner Kelly Owens noted, if the debris comes in Port of Fort Pierce, it would be trucked via State Road 70 to the Okeechobee landfill. According to WM, this port is well suited for barge traffic, while other ports are better for container ships.

“We want to get the best price we can for the county, but we don’t want to price ourselves out of the market,” said Commissioner Goodbread.

Tony Bishop of Waste Management said the bid is time critical. He said if the county does not agree to a rate, their bid will not include the Okeechobee County landfill.

Commissioner Kelly Owens suggested they go with the higher available rate of $3.3189 per ton.

“Keeping in mind that the Fort Pierce port is probably going to be the most favorable to accept that debris,” she said. “I don’t think our additional revenue that we could potentially get is going to be unfavorable in terms of being competitive.”

“I don’t want to get too greedy to where we lose some extra revenue for the county,” said Commissioner Goodbread.

Commissioner Byrant Culpepper suggested reducing the ($3.31/ton) rate by 20 percent.

Commissioner David Hazellief said if the county is going to lower the $3.31 rate for this bid, they should use this as an opportunity to renegotiate the contract with Waste Management.

Commissioner Owens made a motion to agree to set the debris at a rate $3.3189 per ton.

Commissioner Hazellief suggested they also put all of the money into the general fund rather than part of the fee going to the Landfill Trust Fund.

The commissioner agreed unanimously to the rate and that if the county receives this money it will go into the general fund.

In other business, the county received a report on the status of the Cemetery Road project.

The design work began in November 2017 and is expected to be competed in February 2019. Construction will be completed mid-2020.

Publisher/Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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