- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Phillips and Jordan Inc.’s disaster-recovery group has cleaned up tons of debris after hurricanes, ice storms, the September 11 terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center, train wrecks, oil spills, floods and other disasters.

Hurricane Katrina, though, is bigger.

“This probably will be our toughest mission of any of our disaster-recovery efforts. It’s the scale and the logistical setup of everything. There is no housing. There are going to be a lot of people working there, and there is no place to feed them. It’s just going to be a challenge,” said Teddy Phillips, vice chairman of the Knoxville, Tenn., contractor tapped by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to help clean up Orleans Parish in Louisiana.

The hurricane, which crashed into the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, left 18 million to 20 million cubic yards of debris in Mississippi and 55 million cubic yards in Louisiana, including uprooted trees, a broken bridge, smashed houses and 50,000 pounds of rotted meat in a New Orleans warehouse, the Corps said.

The Mississippi wreckage alone would cover 200 football fields piled 50 feet high, said the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It is expected to take eight months to remove the junk from the state’s streets, and about 1 years to dispose of it through recycling, putting it in landfills or burning it.

More than three weeks after Katrina struck, frustration is mounting because more debris has not been removed.

“You know, you hear one thing about debris removal, and nothing is happening. Well, I got back and I called [mayors and the county supervisors] in, and I said, look, part of the recovery, we’ve got to help these folks have a sensible plan to start removing debris,” President Bush said Tuesday in Gulfport, Miss.

FEMA tasked the Corps with removing a portion of the debris, and last week the Corps contracted with four companies to pick up after Katrina.

Phillips and Jordan; Environmental Chemical Corp. of Burlingame, Calif.; Ceres Environmental Services of Brooklyn Park, Minn.; and Ashbritt Inc. of Pompano Beach, Fla., won contracts worth up to $500 million each, with the option of an additional $500 million each. Ashbritt is working in Mississippi, and the other companies in Louisiana.

Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, commander of the Corps of Engineers, said last week that it had a budget of $2.5 billion for debris removal.

“Debris, I think, will be the largest cost in terms of the Corps of Engineers mission to recover from this disaster,” he said.

The debris removal is expected to employ thousands of workers, hundreds of trucks and other heavy equipment. After Hurricane Andrew hit Florida in 1992, Phillips and Jordan — as one of six debris removal companies — employed more than 1,650 people and contracted for more than 750 dump trucks to move about 4 million cubic yards of waste over three months.

Andrew created 43 million cubic yards of debris in Miami-Dade County, said the Environmental Protection Agency.

As of yesterday morning, contractors had removed 800,830 cubic yards of debris from Louisiana and more than 2 million cubic yards from Mississippi, Corps officials said.

“We’re working very hard to make sure that each category of debris, we handle in a responsible way. Recycling is going to be a big part of this,” Gen. Strock said.

One bridge in Gulfport, for example, may be turned into an artificial reef in the Gulf of Mexico, he said. The EPA also is monitoring the cleanup, removing “orphaned” containers of medical waste and other hazards, and testing water, sludge and air for contamination.

John Skinner, executive director and chief executive officer of the Solid Waste Association of North America, said the contractors probably will sort the debris, looking to recycle trees and lumber into mulch, concrete into roadbed aggregate, asphalt back into asphalt and steel into new steel.

“The rest of the material probably will be landfilled,” Mr. Skinner said, though he cautioned that hazardous materials would require special care.

Gypsum wallboard, for example, produces hydrogen sulfide, which smells like rotten eggs and, in extreme cases, can be deadly when it gets wet. Sludge, laced with high levels of lead and bacteria, would have to be dried and buried under EPA supervision.

“It may be a matter of transporting it, sometimes longer distances, but the landfill capacity nationwide can easily take that volume,” Mr. Skinner said of the storm debris.

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