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Army Corps sweeps in to relieve city of debris

Feds draw on $95 million contract to haul 1.8 million tons of trash out of town

This job was too big even for New York’s strongest.

The city’s Department of Sanitation is getting a big lift in its storm cleanup efforts from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has authorized some $95 million in spending for New York City debris removal in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

The dollars are going mostly towards long-hauling: moving the garbage from massive piles at short-term storage sites in Queens and Staten Island to landfills in Pennsylvania and upstate New York.

Innards of flooded homes in Midland Beach, Staten Island, destined to be hauled away by federal contractors. Photo: Nathaniel Herz

The aid from the Army Corps is “an enormous relief,” according to Vito Turso, a deputy commissioner for the New York City Department of Sanitation, because garbage disposal typically costs the city $92 a ton.

The city has already collected some 250,000 tons of storm-related trash, from drywall, furniture and floorboards to books, toys and mementos. That would pencil out to a cost of roughly $23 million — though Turso noted that getting rid of hurricane debris may be cheaper than hauling standard waste.

Rough modeling by the Army Corps pegged the total amount of city storm-related debris in the New York City area at roughly 1.8 million tons, according to spokesman Jeff Hawk.

The hauling is contracted to Environmental Chemical Corporation, a California-based company that’s coordinating a fleet of garbage trucks, plus an armada of barges that carry trash up the Hudson River.

The work itself is being done by subcontractors, rather than ECC directly, according to Glenn Sweatt, the company’s vice president for contracts and compliance.

“We just manage the supply chain of getting the debris to its final resting place in the landfill,” he said.

The Army Corps had previously awarded ECC a five-year contract for disaster-related services, which is only activated after an event like Sandy.

“We may go through that entire five years and there would never be a disaster, and they would never be called up to work,” he said.

The federal government received sharp criticism for its lax oversight of contracts for debris removal in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina along the Gulf Coast. But Hawk said that in New York, the Army Corps will be keeping close tabs on how money is being spent, both through field observation and through an automated system called HaulPass.

“Quality assurance people track the movements of trucks, how much they’re bringing, the mileage,” he said. “That’s something that’s been implemented to give us better visibility of what’s going on.”

Ultimately, the bill for the work will go to the state and federal government. By law, the federal share of the cost will be at least 75 percent, but Governor Andrew Cuomo has said he will push for that proportion to rise to 100 percent.

If any of the $95 million contract remains unspent, Hawk said that the money would be returned though he’s not expecting that to happen.

“We’ve got more debris than funds right now,” he said.