By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest
Whenever a natural disaster strikes, the news media scramble to cover the story. But when the wildfire is extinguished, when the hurricane moves on or when the floodwaters subside, the TV crews and the reporters go home. They leave the massive recovery effort and the mountain of debris and bills for the local authorities to sort out.
There’s still trouble in Paradise, two months after the deadly Camp Fire incinerated a good portion of the California town. Now, a massive cleanup effort remains on hold as authorities try to figure out where to put the tons of garbage and debris.
Natural disasters like the Camp Fire produce many logistical and financial headaches for the affected communities. For example, a recent Los Angeles Times headline proclaimed, “Millions of Tons of Camp Fire Debris Must Go Somewhere – But Nobody Wants It.”
“Disaster officials are scrambling to secure a place to sort and process the remnants of nearly 19,000 structures destroyed in the wildfire that began on November 8 and killed 86 people,” LA Times reporter Laura Newberry explained.
Some Nearby Communities Have Adopted a ‘Not in My Backyard’ Attitude to Fire Debris
Whereas there was a national outpouring of support for the many displaced residents of Paradise, some nearby communities have now adopted a “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) attitude. “The mammoth undertaking has been slowed by staunch opposition in nearby communities eyed as potential sites for a temporary scrapyard, which would receive 250 to 400 truckloads of concrete and metal each day,” Newberry reported.
Local officials insist that the debris can't be processed in Paradise “because such a large operation could impede swift reconstruction efforts there.” Time is of the essence, too. The sooner the rubble is removed, the sooner residents can begin to rebuild or move trailers onto their properties.
Chico, California, is only 14.5 miles away from Paradise. In late December – the so-called holiday season of goodwill -- residents there persuaded the two primary government agencies responsible for the cleanup, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the California Office of Emergency Services, to look elsewhere for a much-needed cleanup site.
Oroville Reluctant to Allow Paradise Debris to Enter Disused Scrapyard
Oroville, California, was nearly washed away in 2017, when heavy rains threatened to overwhelm the Oroville dam spillway. About 188,000 residents downstream from the dam were ordered to evacuate immediately.
Officials there are considering using a disused scrapyard as a dump for some of the Paradise debris. But some residents worry that such intense operations could kick up toxic dust and damage local roadways.
"We've been through enough already," Oroville Councilwoman Linda Draper told the LA Times. "We're hoping that they will listen to our concerns and think about putting it elsewhere."
Hurricane Michael Creates Massive Financial Bill for Disaster Recovery
In November, the media scrambled to Monroe County, Florida, as Hurricane Michael, a Category 4 storm, took aim at Panama City. When Michael blew out of town after wreaking havoc on local communities, the press left town, too. Left behind, however, was Monroe County’s $450 million disaster recovery bill that includes debris removal.
“The county needs new revenue to cover disaster recovery spending since federal reimbursement is a relatively slow process,” the Panama City News Herald reported. The county needs additional money “since the Federal Emergency Management Agency won’t fully reimburse all spending — at minimum only 75 percent of the cost. The rest of the cost will be split between the county and the state.”
County manager Bob Majka told the News Herald that he and county finance officials are looking at all options to find more money for recovery-related costs. The needed funds would mainly go to cover debris removal, public safety and operating temporary shelters.
Recovery Period of Several Years Needed for a Natural Disaster
When the media leave the scene of a natural disaster, the public assumes that everything is under control and quickly moves on to the next big story. But the stricken communities are left to toil in virtual silence as they try to rebuild their homes and businesses and especially their lives. It’s a project that often takes years to complete.