Hurricane Sandy went down in history as one of the most destructive storms on record with thousands of homes destroyed or impacted within a 1,000-mile area. The destruction of homes, piers, and trees created huge piles of timber, concrete, twisted metal and household items strewn along the shorelines of New York.
Debris removal in New York amounted to 5.25 million cubic yards of debris, enough to fill the Empire State Building three times.
This punctuated a monumental clean-up effort by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to perform a debris removal mission to identify, remove, and haul debris from along the New York shores resulting in the establishment of the New York Recovery Field Office.
The RFO was stood up in Queens and later relocated to Manhattan with a mission of managing the mammoth debris removal mission in the State of New York, New York City's impacted boroughs, including the barrier islands of Fire Island, along the south shore of Long Island, N.Y. which proved to be the most challenging for debris removal due to its remoteness and limited access.
Assigned by FEMA to execute the Hurricane Sandy debris mission, the Corps awarded the work to Environmental Chemical Corporation International LCC with local subcontractors that performed the majority of the work.
Army Corps volunteers were recruited from various Army Corps districts and divisions to staff the RFO to aid the debris removal mission.
Lt. Col. John Knight, Commander of the Recovery Field Office has been responsible for all of the Army Corps personnel support and debris removal efforts in New York after taking the helm from Col. Trey Jordon who temporarily staffed the RFO at its inception.
Knight attributes the overall success of the debris removal mission to team work.
“The RFO consisted of a variety of experts from various fields, primarily quality assurance personnel, came together and provided oversight of the contractors performing the monumental clean-up. Teams worked and collaborated with FEMA on the federal side, and worked closely with the State and the City, and specifically in this case were embedded with the New York City Office of Emergency Management and Suffolk County Office of Emergency Management. The team effort made us very successful.”
Many of the volunteers have previous experience having performed in other disasters.
“One of the main reasons the mission was very successful is due to the professionalism of individuals. They came from various Districts and Divisions in other states, and are highly qualified, highly technically trained and experienced,” said Knight.
At each location, debris quantities were tracked using HaulPass, an automated debris management system to track the debris landscape. HaulPass provided optimum visibility of debris through the use of hand-held electronic devices, smart-cards, and Internet for the Corps and contractor and GPS technology.
Before crews could pick up anything off private property a signed right of entry form was required from homeowners. 1,600 properties were eligible for debris removal and the Corps contracted for the collection, load, and hauling debris.
Collecting and hauling tons of debris involved working with the state, city and homeowners. Corps crews worked with the New York City Department of Sanitation to supplement clean-up efforts. Sanitation crews were augmented and resources were concentrated from the Rockaways using trucks and barges to transport debris at collection areas in Queens and Staten Island, New York. Mountains of debris from neighborhoods were collected, removed and transported to temporary staging sites including from impacted sites and staging areas designated as sites for hauling debris off for disposal. Debris was comprised of trees, limbs, shrubs; household garbage and construction and demolition debris, houses and their contents; road vehicles, boats, food waste and household appliances.
The storm also produced debris from vegetation. Over 15,000 trees were downed in the city. Many trees and limbs were transported to Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn and chipped.
Coordination with local, state and other federal agencies was also accomplished to minimize disturbance to the ecosystem. In partnership with the City of New York, the Corps converted tree debris into reusable material including biofuel, mulch and landfill cover.
Wood planks and concrete was removed at the Rockaways caused by the storm surge which moved parts of the beach and houses onto streets at Rockaway Beach along with a boardwalk that was destroyed.
Recyclable materials were separated from debris at Jacob Riis Park in Queens assisting the Sanitation Department to reroute metal scrap to a recycling facility. Debris was transported by long-haul trucks or by barge to landfills in upstate New York and Pennsylvania.
A temporary storage site at Jacob Riis Park was established for trucks to unload debris. Sand was transported from Riis Park where excavators with hydraulic jack hammers broke apart large chunks of concrete and front end loaders used for the concrete crushers. A parking lot at Field 5 at Robert Moses State Park, Long Island was also used as a temporary staging area for debris collected from Fire Island which expedited the removal efforts.
At Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, the Corps burned or chipped about 135,000 cubic yards of tree limbs and large tree trunks. At Jacob Riis Park debris was collected from areas in Brooklyn and Queens. The Corps went through Breezy Point, Rockaways, Staten Island and Fire Island, on foot where appliances, demolition debris and ruined household goods were carted off.
Residents and visitors access Fire Island primarily by ferry. A remote barrier island, Fire Island has limited vehicle access and travel is mostly limited to small boardwalks or sand pathways, and driving on the beach required access several communities. The Corps worked street by street and removed debris using dump trucks, front-end loaders and crawler excavators. Approximately 2,200 structures on Fire Island were damaged by the storm and an estimated 62,000 cubic yards of storm debris was moved from the right of way and private property.
The mission shifted into high gear at Fire Island in March with 24-7 operations in full swing to expedite the removal process and meet the clean up goal. Approximately 2180 Tons of construction and demolition (C&D) and 438 Tons of debris passed through Field 5 at Robert Moses State Park alone.
The final piles of debris that were collected from Fire Island and removed from Robert Moses State Park in late March just in time for the piping plover bird nesting on island beaches.
Results are also evident and at Midland Beach, a neighborhood on Staten Island’s east shore was free of the piles of debris previously staged at Father Cappodanno Beach.
According to Allen Roos, Deputy of Recovery Field Office, an effort that lasted through the end of May 2013 included the temporary storage site at Jacob Riis Park at the Jamaica Bay Unit of the Gateway National Recreation Area in Queens where they continued to grind concrete -- material was collected, and repackaged for long haul transportation for disposal. Material such as boardwalk and sand, and materials for salvage capabilities, included the restoration of the area used at Riis Park.
After months of having crews working 24-7, on long shifts, the team ended the cleanup effort, the operation wrapped up in April. The overall debris removal mission in New York was completed with great strides and milestones accomplished from a very talented team of volunteers who spent several months and long hours in support of the Sandy Debris Recovery Mission. The cleanup was described by a citizen as “a textbook case of how to get a job done.”