Almost five months after Hurricane Sandy, cleanup of hurricane debris continues throughout the state. Bob Martin, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider, that the cleanup will go on right into the summer season.
According to Martin, terrestrial debris from Sandy totaled about four years worth of trees that needed to be cleared. The plan in place, he said, is twofold. The first part, the removal of trees off the streets, he said was a big success. “We did all of that within the first 12 weeks after the storm and now what we’re trying to do is make sure that debris is put away safely.”
The second part of the plan involves controlling wildfires using a process of controlled burns. “[Working] with the state forest fire service, we’re trying to make sure we don’t have a lot of forest fires this spring,” Martin said. “Once things start getting dry in the April/May time frame, we typically get a lot of forest fires. We’re trying to make sure that we burn out a lot of the areas that might catch fire and burn a lot of these fuels that’s still laying down.”
Martin added that he doesn’t expect wildfires to be worse than normal this year, taking into account the tree cover brought on by the fairly damp weather conditions of early spring.
Sandy debris cleanup has been a hot button political issue as a result of the state’s no-bid contract with Florida-based debris removal firm AshBritt. Earlier this month, state lawmakers held a hearing to determine whether the Christie administration got a good deal when it piggy-backed on Connecticut’s contract with AshBritt two days after Hurricane Sandy.
In assessing the performance of AshBritt and other debris removal services, Martin touted the results already achieved.
“FEMA identified that there was about 10 million cubic yards of debris that had to be removed overall and 8 million yards of that debris was cleared out in the first 12 weeks after the storm. That in itself is an incredible success story,” said Martin. “The last two million, a million and a half cubic yards that are left are basically houses that are demolished that have to be removed. Typically, these are going to have to be done by [a] contractor.”
As for the debris affecting the shore, Martin said the game plan involves contracting out the cleanup into three geographic segments — north, central and south.
“We’ve got contractors out there with cranes and a lot of equipment out there pulling debris out on a constant basis. Our goals is to get 75 percent of the debris out of the water by June 1, and so those contractors are working very hard to do that right now.”
The priority for the next two to three months, he said, is to remove debris that could potentially hit boats. Still, Martin cautioned people to use common sense as cleanup will be ongoing for some time to come. “There’s going to be debris and we’re going to be cleaning up the debris on the water and in the beaches through the entire summer.”
As the state continues to recover from superstorm Sandy, there has been much debate about the direction that rebuilding should take along the shore. In some communities, dune projects have faced objections from property owners who refuse to grant access to their property. Asked whether the entire shore should be protected by dunes or a sea wall, Martin said that a full coastal protection system designed by the Army Corps of Engineers has been laid out.
“Congress has approved over a billion dollars for New Jersey to rebuild the entire coast of New Jersey with this protection system, that is the best way to do it,”said Martin, who added that special requests by towns will be considered.
“Bay Head had a revetment that was built in 1962,” he cited as an example. “Some of these towns have asked for some small revetments to be put in place. We’re going to allow them to do that as long as it doesn’t interfere with the Army Corps project to rebuild that entire beach with [a] full dune system to protect the towns and to protect the infrastructure behind it.”