Debris Removal from Ocracoke Island Poses Unique Challenges

Friday, January 31, 2020 - 8:42am

Storms leave behind big messes and communities need help with clean up. That’s certainly the case on Ocracoke, where several feet of storm surge inundated the island when Hurricane Dorian passed by last September.

As residents cleaned out flooded homes, large piles of curbside debris quickly developed all over the island – made up of ruined furniture, soaked drywall and damaged floorboards.  

For the past several months, crews have been picking up that debris, collecting it in a massive pile on a parking lot at one of the island’s beach accesses.  Debris removal crews are now on the third and final pass to collect curbside debris, and should have that complete by mid-February.

“We know that the real work of repairing and rebuilding homes and businesses can’t begin until debris is out of the way,” said Joe Stanton, recovery chief for North Carolina Emergency Management. “It’s a critical early step in the recovery process.”

Removing tens of thousands of tons of storm debris from a barrier island far from the mainland poses interesting logistical challenges.  That massive debris pile is slowly being loaded onto trucks, which then ride ferries to Hatteras Island or the mainland, and haul the debris to a landfill in Bertie County that accepts construction and demolition debris.

Nearly 35,000 cubic yards of vegetative debris and more than 51,000 cubic yards of construction and demolition debris have been collected from Ocracoke roadsides – along with more than 2,700 appliances.  More than 4,300 tons of construction debris has already been removed from the island for final disposal.  

Remaining to be removed is an estimated 25,000 cubic yards of vegetative debris and 31,000 cubic yards of construction debris.   It’s a slow process that's at the mercy of the ferries, which on some days struggle to maintain service through the constantly shifting shoals of Pamlico Sound and Hatteras Inlet.  

Since FEMA approved a plan that allows a majority of debris hauling via the Ocracoke to Hatteras ferry route, the trucks have been averaging seven to eight loads of construction debris a day departing the island, said Hyde County emergency manager Justin Gibbs. Some trucks use the ferry route to Swan Quarter, which is a longer ferry ride, but a shorter drive to the landfill in Bertie County.  

Vegetative debris is hauled to Engelhard, where it is reduced through chippers before final disposal.  If the current pace continues, Gibbs expects to have all debris removed from the island by this spring, in plenty of time for the return of summer tourists to the island.

Keith Acree