If you thought debris from Hurricane Matthew was long gone, think again.
More than a year after the Category 2 storm slammed into Hilton Head, downed trees and debris are still scattered across the island in undeveloped areas.
And there is no plan to clean it up.
Hilton Head town manager Steve Riley said Monday the Federal Emergency Management Agency will not reimburse the costof clearing debris from undeveloped land.
“(Cleaning it up) was talked about early on,” Riley said. “But we’ve come to realize it’s not a simple undertaking.”
To get to these wooded or wetland areas, some living trees would need to be removed to allow equipment to get to the downed trees, he said, making the debris-removal situation more complicated.
And because the town has depleted its reserves for hurricane recovery, Riley said, there’s no money to remove the debris.
Although trees aren’t lying in roadways as they were immediately after the storm, uprooted trees and limbs can still be seen while driving the island.
On Pope Avenue, for example, near Office Park Road, debris can be seen next to a boardwalk. Riley said debris is also visible across from Windmill Harbour.
Effects of downed trees
David Lucas, a spokesman for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, said downed trees and debris will have a positive effect on wildlife because as the wood rots, insects will nest and fungi will grow. Fewer trees will also allow more sunlight in wooded areas, boosting vegetation growth.
There is a downside, though, Lucas said. Downed trees and limbs become “fuel” for wildfire.
Joheida Fister, fire marshal for the Hilton Head Fire Rescue, agreed that burning is a potential concern.
“If it’s dried-out, it’s going to burn a whole lot quicker than something that’s green,” Fister said. “We just have to be vigilant on what we allow people to do with burning.”
With the potential of the Matthew debris drying out further this summer, Fister said it is something that will be taken into account before residents are permitted to burn anything.
And although the fallen trees are good for insects, Gregg Hunt, of Beaufort County mosquito control, said remaining debris could lead to mosquito breeding, as it did immediately after the hurricane.
As of February, the group is not seeing mosquito breeding, but as the weather warms up, it’s a possibility, he said.
“You can potentially have mosquito breeding sites from downed trees,” Hunt said. “But we don’t get that too much in the Lowcountry.”
Debris behind the gates
Some gated communities are still dealing with Hurricane Matthew debris in undeveloped areas.
Removing those downed trees and branches, like the debris on town-owned land, will not be reimbursed by FEMA, Riley said.
Peter Kristian, general manager of Hilton Head Plantation, said there are still “sporadic pockets of debris” in the north-end community.
“We have some common areas with tree damage, but going in and removing it will be more devastating to the natural environment than just leaving it in place,” Kristian said. “If it poses a hazard, then we’re going to take a look at it.”
Susan Fishel, general manager of Wexford Plantation, said that for the most part, all debris in the community has been taken care of.
The plantation is currently planting oak trees along the golf course to replace those Matthew took. There may be some debris in wooded areas, Fishel said, but “nothing noticeable.”
Similarly, Shipyard Plantation general manager Sally Warren said there may be a few tree limbs in lagoons and common areas, but downed trees have been taken care of.
Chip Munday, general manager of Indigo Run, said there are still wooded common areas with debris, but said the community is in the process of cleaning it up. He expects to be free of Matthew debris in a month or two.
Andrew Schumacher, CEO of the Palmetto Dunes Property Owners Association, said nearly all debris from Matthew has been addressed. About half a dozen undeveloped lots still have debris, and the community is “actively pursuing compliance” with the owners to clean those lots.
Bret Martin of Sea Pines Community Services Associates was unavailable for a phone interview and instead sent a written statement through the Lou Hammond Group, a communications firm in Charleston.
In the statement, Martin said the community is managing “residual effects” of the hurricane, including weakened and decaying trees.
Port Royal Plantation, Long Cove Club and Palmetto Hall did not respond to requests for comment.