Feds Help Dig Territory Out from Under, Respond to Blue Roof Criticism

Contractors install roofting material for Project Blue Roof in this Florida photo from the Army Corps of Engineers.
Contractors install roofting material for Project Blue Roof in this Florida photo from the Army Corps of Engineers.

Hurricanes Irma and Maria buried the territory under an estimated 1.2 million cubic yards of natural and man-made waste, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing efforts to collect and remove the debris.

On St. Thomas and St. John the federal government is committed to paying 100 percent of the cost of debris removal and the Army Corps will contract out the actual work. On St. Croix, the federal government is paying 90 percent of the cost and work is being handled by the V.I. Public Works Department, with the Army Corps providing oversight and technical assistance.

USACE contact Lisa A. Parker, who is on the scene, said she expects the contract for St. Thomas-St. John to be approved by Thursday. Negotiations are still underway and she would not discuss the estimated cost. On St. Croix, she said, Pubic Works is already doing “an awesome job.”

The Army Corps also has responsibility for the Blue Roof Program, which Gov. Kenneth Mapp criticized Monday for being too slow. While he had told residents that the program would deliver about 200 temporary roofs daily, on St. Croix only 47 had been installed by the beginning of this week.

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Parker said officials met with Mapp to discuss his concerns and he encouraged them to get more than one contractor on the job, “and we’re looking into that.” She added that the agency is checking to see whether it can hire another contractor.

Currently, GEC, LLC, (or General Construction Contractor) has the contract for the Blue Roof Program. Based on St. Croix, the company has a long history of work in both the private and public sectors throughout the territory, particularly on St. Croix. Attempts to reach company representatives by phone and email were unsuccessful Tuesday.

Parker concurred with Mapp’s statement that about 13,000 homes qualify for the program,territory-wide.

The temporary roofs are constructed of reinforced plastic sheeting and are designed to last at least 30 days. One month is the recommended lifetime, although Parker said they often last much longer.

“It’s much better than a tarp,” she said.

The catch is that the blue roof cannot be attached to a home whose roof is more that 50 percent gone.

The debris removal program involves collection, sorting and disposal. Since debris includes vegetation, “white goods” such as kitchen appliances, building materials, and general household goods, disposal methods vary. Hazardous waste such as bleach bottles and paint cans need special handing. Some vegetation can be burned, Parker said.

It’s up to the V.I. government to identify disposal sites, she said. But she acknowledged existing landfill sites are already crowded and said debris could be barged off-island.

Assuming the contract is finalized by Thursday, actual work is slated to begin in the St. Thomas/St. John district in less than a week, according to information from FEMA, which is funding the work.

“The contractor will maximize local contract resources to develop the local authorities approved Temporary Debris Reduction Sites (TDRS’s) for operations, construct monitoring towers, and certify trucks for the automated data management information systems. The expectation is the contractor will begin removing debris from the right of way on 10 Oct 17,” the statement reads.

Parker explained that the “right of way” extends 10 feet from a public road.

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