New pre-hurricane step should speed Wellington debris cleanup

As hurricane season approaches, the village has a plan to make post-storm debris clean-up a simpler process than after Hurricane Irma by working with homeowners associations before a storm hits, instead of chasing down board members in the manic hours after a hurricane.

Irma left a trail of destruction throughout the Florida peninsula, creating massive amounts of debris and chaos in each of the state’s 67 counties. Irma left behind more than 180,000 cubic yards of vegetative debris in Wellington alone, leading to a two-month-long cleanup that cost the village about $3.5 million.

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In the days after the storm, Wellington scrambled to get an essential form signed by HOA representatives: a right-of-entry agreement, which allows village crews and contractors to enter a gated neighborhood to pick up debris. The forms are required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for Wellington to be reimbursed for the work, assistant village manager Jim Barnes said.

“We’re trying to get a little bit ahead of the game,” he said. “Rather than waiting for these events to get here … let’s go ahead and get one (agreement) that’s season-specific.”

AFTER IRMA: Wellington, Royal Palm spared brunt of storm’s force

Working with a FEMA attorney, Wellington drafted a form that covers any storm cleanup from the upcoming hurricane season. Representatives of 23 of Wellington’s HOAs signed the agreement at a meeting Tuesday at Wellington’s Community Center, where they also were able to provide feedback on debris cleanup and ask hurricane season-related questions.

“Hopefully this agreement that you’ve signed won’t have to be activated,” community services director Paulette Edwards told them.

Of the 127 HOAs in Wellington, 25 had signed the agreement as of Wednesday morning, Edwards said. While that number may seem small, only private, gated communities are required to sign the forms. The agreement is optional for non-gated communities, she said.

RELATED: Irma damages roofs, snaps massive trees in Wellington neighborhood

Those in attendance said signing the form was a no-brainer. Without it, village debris-removal crews would be unable to enter their neighborhoods, leaving the HOAs saddled with the cost.

“They (residents) would be out in front of my house with pitchforks,” said Rich Jerant, board president at Hidden Creek.

Versailles used its parking lot as a debris collection site, where landscapers already contracted by the community dumped piles picked up from in front of homes. “You saved us tens of thousands of dollars than if we had to remove that ourselves,” board president Sal Van Casteren told village staff.

RELATED: Report reveals Irma stats: Cat 5 power for stunning 60 straight hours

Wellington also took the opportunity to remind the HOAs of some storm season best practices — including not clearing yard waste right before a hurricane hits. In the days before Irma, Wellington picked up more yard waste than it had in the previous six months, Barnes said.

“We were picking up stuff up to the day of the storm,” he said, adding that village crews were hauling trimmed branches and palm fronds from in front of homes long after Waste Management pulled its trucks off the road.

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