Jim Thompson

Northwest Florida Daily News

0:50 1:00

DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — Walton County commissioners want quick action on the removal of household debris resulting from the rain, flooding and other local impacts of Hurricane Sally.

With a unanimous Tuesday vote, commissioners granted approval for County Administrator Larry Jones to work with Waste Management, which handles garbage services across the county, and with AshBritt Environmental, the county’s disaster response and environmental services contractor, to get the pickup of those household debris on a fast track along with the county’s own public works personnel.

Jones told commissioners at their Tuesday morning meeting that as floodwaters from the storm have receded, the county has been getting a number of calls from residents who need to dispose of couches, other furniture and other large items ruined by rain and floodwaters that are now stacked in front yards around the county.

“We don’t want to wait to get that done,” Jones told commissioners Tuesday.

“We’re not sure what FEMA is going to reimburse, if at all,” he continued. “But the folks who have a mess, they’re ready to start getting it cleaned up.”

Additionally, the county will be working with a monitoring contractor to develop data for use in potential future reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for expenses incurred in connection with recovery from Hurricane Sally.

As a means of getting the waste recovery work started, commissioners allocated $50,000 in contingency funding for the effort, an amount that Jeff Goldberg, the county’s emergency management director, said was a good estimate of the money that might be needed to get the effort underway.

But Goldberg also told commissioners that as more homeowners and businesses begin to see those large pieces of debris getting picked up, demand for getting those items out of other yards likely will increase.

Goldberg said he has spoken with a FEMA recovery liaison, but as of Tuesday morning, had no update on the likelihood of any reimbursement from the federal agency. The agency has, however, asked for debris monitoring by the county, Goldberg said.

On a related note, Chairman Bill Chapman urged county officials and debris removal contractors not to get overly hung up on questions of which types of debris each entity is, or should be, responsible for getting off of the county’s roadsides.

“If it’s out there, get it,” Chapman said. “We need to get it, clear it up.”

Othewrise, the chairman added, the household refuse is “going to rot, and it’s going to start stinking.” Without decisive action, he said, “It’s going to take forever, and it’s just going to get worse.”

The commission’s Tuesday action gives Jones the power to execute any needed contracts to handle waste removal, as commissioners made it clear they did not want to wait until their Oct. 13 meeting to handle any decisions on hurricane-related debris removal. Jones will keep Chapman informed of any actions he takes between now and the upcoming commission meeting.

More:Walton County assessing damage from Hurricane Sally

In fact, Chapman started the process moving Tuesday, pushing a Waste Management representative to do more than the company’s initial plan to put a single boom truck, equipped to handle bulky and heavy items, in action to help handle hurricane debris removal.

The Waste Management representaitve told commissioners that a single boom truck likely could make just four or five trips to the landfill each day, meaning that Waste Management, working alone with just that single truck, would spend “a few weeks” on debris removal.

Chapman asked the representative to do what he could to get additional boom trucks from elsewhere in Waste Management’s inventory into Walton County.

While it’s likely that the southern end of Walton County, adjacent to the beaches and the Choctawhatchee Bay, took the brunt of storm damage, particularly flooding, there was damage across the county.

“It’s all over the county, probably a little bit worse per square mile in the south,” said Commissioner Tony Anderson, who represents part of the southern end of the county.

As Tuesday’s meeting got underway, Chapman took a moment for a broad look at the county’s current status in the wake of Hurricane Sally. “We have a lot of roads still in bad shape,” he said. “We’ve still got weeks and weeks of work to do around here concerning that.”

Chapman, who is in the last few months of his commission term, also took a moment to look back at 2020 thus far.

“It’s been a heck of a year, hasn’t it?” he said. “We’ve had to deal with COVID-19, now Hurricane Sally and other events (including a wildfire in the southern end of the county that destroyed a number of homes).”

“I never expected my last year to be this disruptive, but it has been,” Chapman said.