CUDJOE KEY, FL – Due to the continuing complaints from residents, the Monroe County Board of County Commissioners directed County Administrator Roman Gastesi to send a formal request to the Florida Department of Transportation to stop the hurricane debris burning operations on Cudjoe Key.
The approximately 213,000 cubic yards of vegetative debris at this site on blimp road was collected by the FDOT’s debris contractor MCM Construction, which is responsible for the disposal of the collected debris.
Gastesi sent the request to stop burning via email on Nov. 16. The County has not received a response yet.
Here’s the background:
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection approved the use of an air curtain incinerator to burn vegetative hurricane debris at the temporary debris management site on Blimp Road on Cudjoe Key. The Governor’s Emergency Final Order authorized the operation, which began there on Oct. 26.
To date, about half of the debris at the Blimp Road site has been burned using air curtains, which is an accepted practice under FEMA’s Public Assistance Debris Management Guide. The operation requires the daily approval of the Florida Forest Service. Monroe County Deputy Fire Marshal Craig Marston has been monitoring the operation.
This is environmentally friendly and the most economical way to dispose of the vegetative debris. In the air curtain process, smoke particles are trapped and reburned, reducing them to an acceptable limit per U.S. EPA guidelines, according to FEMA.
Before the vegetation is put into the air curtain pit, it is “fluffed” to remove any non-vegetative items and any vegetative items that don’t burn well.
Through this process, the vegetation that can be burned is reduced by about 98 percent in volume, leaving only a small amount of ash product that can be used in agriculture.
Residents who live in the vicinity of the incineration site have complained of smoke that has made it hard for some to breathe, as well as soot and ash accumulation on their vehicles. Some say they can’t keep their windows open at times.
On Nov. 14, representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, DEP, the Florida Forest Service, MCM Construction, the incinerator operator and Marston met at the incineration site to investigate the complaints and evaluate the operation.
DEP measured the amount of smoke generated during operations and determined it was well within defined limits. DEP also recorded the successful capture of soot, embers and ash that is returned to the “burn-pit,” Marston said.
Rudy Garcia, FDOT’s Director of Transportation Operations, wrote in an email to Gastesi following the Nov. 14 investigation: “The debris burning operation is being monitored by DEP, DOF [Division of Forestry], and Monroe County and it is in compliance with all requirements. We expect the burning operations to continue for another 4 weeks. Meanwhile we have asked our Consultant to continue working with our Contractor to determine if there are any opportunities to reduce any levels of smoke which are already within compliance.”
In the meantime, the air curtain incinerator operator has voluntarily limited burning when winds are out of the north and could most affect residents in the vicinity, Marston said.