Hurricane

What’s going to happen to all these fallen trees?

Trees damaged or toppled by Hurricane Matthew lay on the property of Carolina Morning Firewood in Okatie on Oct. 18, 2016.
Trees damaged or toppled by Hurricane Matthew lay on the property of Carolina Morning Firewood in Okatie on Oct. 18, 2016. The Island Packet

With all the fallen trees around Hilton Head Island, the inevitable question emerges: Where will they all go now?

The solution Hilton Head has chosen is not only the fastest in terms of clearing them, but also the most expensive, according to town officials.

Tree debris could be taken to the landfill or remade for a new purpose, depending on the next use businesses propose for Hurricane Matthew’s wooden victims.

“For now, we are grinding (trees) with the intention we will landfill the debris,” said Scott Liggett, Hilton Head Island’s director of public projects and facilities. “We are trying to identify alternatives if they exist: Is there a market for any of this?”

Crowder Gulf is the Alabama-based company that’s contracted to remove, reduce and dispose of debris when a disaster hits Hilton Head Island. Their crews were stationed in Bluffton the night of the storm and have been working since then.

We are trying to identify alternatives if they exist; Is there a market for any of this?…For now, we are grinding (trees) with the intention we will landfill the debris.

Scott Liggett, Hilton Head Island’s director of public projects and facilities

“It’s not something you can clean up in a week or two,” Crowder Gulf’s President and CEO John Ramsay said.

Crowder Gulf is also working on the island through a large number of subcontractors. “That’s how this business normally works,” Ramsay said.

Crews are taking tree debris to Chaplin Park and Honey Horn, where it is being chipped and ground down.

Chaplin Park and Honey Horn are receiving tree debris collected on the island by Crowder Gulf.

That’s all by the book, according to Hilton Head’s debris management plan, which was last updated in 2012.

“The town prefers chipping and grinding methods for debris reduction over incineration in order to avoid environmental, air and water quality issues,” the plan reads.

Parts of the town’s website, including the debris management plan, are temporarily suspended to “focus on disaster recovery efforts.” But a cached version of the plan is online.

Hilton Head and Crowder Gulf “plan to make every effort possible to find locations for the reduced debris mulch or ashes generated during debris reduction operations to be utilized to recycle rather than being sent directly to a landfill,” according to the plan.

It’s not something you can clean up in a week or two.

John Ramsay, Crowder Gulf CEO and President

Liggett said taking debris to the landfill would probably be the fastest way to get it off the island.

“(But) that also happens to be likely the most expensive option as well,” Liggett said.

Ramsay said all tree debris cannot be converted into clean chips, which can be turned into paper or paper towels, or fuel chips, which can be used in energy production as biomass.

“It won’t make a real quality chip,” Ramsay said about some tree debris coated in sand or other foreign substances.

‘These are resources’

Some businesses are volunteering to take trees that fell in the storm and convert them into a new purpose.

Brandon and Chelsea Thiess operate Carolina Morning Firewood, an Okatie company that makes firewood used in fireplaces and restaurant ovens. Most of their firewood originally comes from loggers who would be going to mills.

“All the mills are to the south of us. So they love coming to us because it’s closer,” Brandon Thiess said.

“I thought we were going to have wood just pouring in here left and right (after Hurricane Matthew),” he said. “Then no wood showed up. And I was like, where’s all the wood?”

They were initially concerned that all tree debris would simply be chipped down and shipped to Hickory Hill landfill in Ridgeland.

“We were in shock because that was stuff that we use. These are resources that we get already from our area,” Chelsea Thiess said. “It just didn’t make any sense that they weren’t finding alternatives rather than just sticking it in our landfill.”

I thought we were going to have wood just pouring in here left and right.

Brandon Thiess, Carolina Morning Firewood

Brandon Thiess reached out to Crowder Gulf officials about what would happen to collected debris. Carolina Morning Firewood is volunteering to take 2,000 tons of tree debris.

 ‘I can get a log truck down there and haul it off,’ ” he says he told Crowder Gulf.

Brandon Thiess says Crowder Gulf listened to his concerns and is working with him to find other businesses willing to take trees or woodchips.

Other companies are asking residents directly for their tree debris.

D.H. Abney Company is asking Facebook users for large oak tree trunks longer than eight feet.

“We want to turn some the beautiful oak trees we lost during the recent hurricane into building materials, bar and table tops,” the post read.

Daniel Salazar: dsalazar@wichitaeagle.com

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