TALLAHASSEE — As mountains of garbage piles up from Hurricane Irma, counties across Florida say that companies they hired to remove debris won't show up because they can make a lot more money doing the work in South Florida.
Officials in six counties — Alachua, Hendry, Indian River, Manatee, Orange and Sarasota — all complained to the state Thursday about problems with companies that refuse to haul debris.
"We've also been told that our contracted rate of $5.50 a cubic yard is not going to cut it with the subs (subcontractors)," Hendry County Administrator Charles Chapman said, "and we may be looking at a price, or a change order, being presented to us for as much as $8 a cubic yard. It would be nice if we had cash to play, but we don't."
Hendry is one of the state's poorest counties. Hendry hired AshBritt Environmental and Crowder-Gulf, two major debris removal companies, to help with cleanup efforts. AshBritt, a Florida company, is based in Deerfield Beach and lobbies Florida's Legislature and executive branch. Crowder-Gulf is based near Mobile, Ala.
Crowder-Gulf said Hendry County was wrong. "I am livid that that is out there," chief operating officer Ashley Ramsay-Naile said. "We have not been activated there. We are their secondary contractor ... That is not truthful. Crowder-Gulf has had zero conversations with Hendry County on being activated."
Sarasota County emergency chief Rich Collins described subcontractors refusing to haul debris for its primary vendor, Crowder-Gulf. "They came through the county and said, 'We're moving south, where we can make more money.' We're having a difficult time getting subs," Collins said.
The bottom line: Collins said Sarasota pays $8 a cubic yard for debris removal "and they're going where they can get 15 ... It's really affecting us."
Attorney General Pam Bondi suggested those companies might be violating Florida's law against price-gouging. She said Gov. Rick Scott expressed serious concern about vendors "breaking contracts with you," and she offered help from experts in her office.
A day earlier, Scott issued a statement Wednesday that said the accumulation of storm-related trash is a public safety issue. Scott urged counties to clear downed trees, wood and other garbage, saying: "The presence of debris can hinder work and delay restoration which is unacceptable."
The accumulation of storm-related waste can quickly escalate into a public health problem. Hurricane debris includes vegetation, household appliances, car and truck parts, tile, floor covering, mud, sand and animal carcasses.
Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said she's seeking guidance and direction from the state. Jacobs also said debris haulers are going to South Florida, which pays more money for removal — in some cases twice as much.
In Bradenton, Manatee County Commissioner Robin DiSabatino said it would take "weeks, if not months" to clear all of her county's storm debris.
DiSabatino asked for state financial assistance to hire more vendors to remove debris from Hurricane Irma. "If this stuff it laying around for months, it's a safety problem," she said.
Scott's emergency chief, Bryan Koon, said the governor is trying to hire additional out-of-state debris haulers. Koon urged counties not to try to renegotiate contracts with vendors, telling counties: "We don't want you all competing with each other."