SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers debris management operation is now underway on Vieques, an island off the east coast of Puerto Rico. Contract crews are working to clear debris left in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

"The goal of the mission is to remove debris to minimize the risk of disease spreading and rodents, and to help get the island back to normal," said Ben Delatte, the zone engineer for the USACE debris management mission in Zone 1, which encompasses Vieques. The debris is being taken to a landfill on Vieques that serves as a collection site.

The USACE team is working with federal and municipal agencies on Vieques to identify additional sites for temporary debris reduction, permanent disposal for construction and demolition debris, and permanent disposal for mulched vegetative debris. These sites must first be assessed for environmental, historical and archaeological resources to ensure compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, said Shannon Johnson, the NEPA coordinator for the USACE Recovery Field Office in San Juan.

The debris management mission includes vegetative debris -tree branches, leaves, logs and plants - as well as construction debris - building materials, drywall, lumber, carpet, furniture and plumbing. It also includes electronics, large appliances, hazardous waste and household garbage. All of the debris must be a direct result of the hurricane.

Contract crews working with USACE gather the debris from curbsides and bring it to a collection site for reduction. Here, workers determine what debris is recyclable and what must be permanently disposed. The vegetative debris is processed through grinders and turned into mulch. The goal of reduction is to decrease the volume of material that requires disposal.

If a municipality has already collected some debris and moved it to temporary debris sites, the contract crews move the debris to a reduction site managed by USACE. Quality assurance personnel from USACE spot check contractors to make sure crews are collecting debris from designated areas so as not to duplicate work done by the municipalities.
USACE quality assurance specialists are also stationed at the debris collection and reduction sites. At these locations, they assess each truck load to account for the volume and type of debris collected.

After collection and reduction, the debris is moved to permanent disposal sites. For construction and demolition debris that cannot be recycled, permanent disposal occurs at landfills. For mulched vegetative debris, USACE is working with federal agencies and municipalities to determine beneficial options for permanent disposal - such as using the mulch as a compost or as a landfill cover-so that it does not take up space in landfills.

Across Puerto Rico, USACE is actively managing debris operations in 51 municipalities that have agreements with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In addition, USACE has completed debris management operations in one municipality. More than 1.8 million cubic yards of debris has been collected in Puerto Rico to date.