On the west end of Fire Island, wood chippers growled as they were fed debris from trees and brush ravaged by superstorm Sandy.
On the east end, workers carted piles of storm waste -- in trucks, golf carts or hand wagons -- to a temporary storage site in Davis Park, carefully navigating the barrier island's paths.
The flurry of activity this week during what is normally a quiet time of year on the island was a welcome sign to many who have waited months for piles of debris to be removed from their communities.
Monday marked the first day of work in a long-awaited debris removal project, funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and organized by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which was delayed for more than a month by what officials described as an "atypical series" of protests on the bidding process for the job.
"People sort of stopped believing it would ever actually happen," said year-round resident Mary Parker, president of the Davis Park Association, as she stood in front of a massive pile of storm waste -- including the remains of several oceanfront homes -- at a debris staging site near the Davis Park marina. "So finally a lot is happening all at once after four months of nothing. . . . It makes you think there will be a [summer] season, to some extent."
After almost a half dozen challenges, a $10.1 million contract was awarded on Feb. 27 to Environmental Chemical Corp., a California company that is tasked with removing roughly 9,000 tons of storm debris from the island by March 31. Workers will have limited access to the island's oceanfront after March 15 because of the nesting season of the federally protected piping plover.
Crews are pushing to remove debris from the island's east end first, because of its larger number of environmentally sensitive plover nesting places, said Martin Dougherty, the Army Corps' resident engineer for the Fire Island project.
But cleanup will have begun in all 17 communities by the end of the week, he said, and workers should start barging and trucking debris off the island in a few days. "We're all committed to getting it done by the end of March," Dougherty said.
Right-of-entry forms were signed for nearly 1,600 of roughly 4,000 homes on the barrier island to allow contractors onto private property to remove storm debris, and workers are supposed to remove any found in the island's rights of way. In addition, four homes are scheduled to be demolished as part of the cleanup -- three in Ocean Bay Park near the oceanfront, and one in Ocean Beach.
Vegetative debris will be chipped and saved on the island for now, corps spokesman Chris Gray-Garcia said, but other debris will be sent to landfills -- each load carefully weighed for reimbursement by FEMA before it is barged off or trucked over the Robert Moses Causeway.
Dougherty said that, while this week's storm may delay debris removal, the chipping of vegetation, and collecting and consolidating of debris can continue.
Because of a 10-day window for contract protests, there is still the possibility for more delays on the job that Dougherty says has seen more opposition than any other Army Corps contract with which he's been involved.
Now that the job has been contracted, corps officials say 82 percent of the work -- or roughly $8.3 million of the contract -- will go to local subcontractors.
Environmental Chemical Corp. spokesman Glenn Sweatt said the main subcontractor for the job is Edgewood-based Coastal Environmental Group. Central Islip-based DS3 Enterprises Inc., the company that won the contract in late January but had it withdrawn because of a protest, has been hired as one of many Suffolk-based subcontractors to prepare and remove the debris.
At the Davis Park debris staging area on Tuesday, a DS3 Enterprises manager orchestrated a crew of workers as they unloaded piles of wood and outdoor furniture from nearby homes.
"As much as anything else today it's getting everyone here," said DS3 sector manager Clyde Durham of Bayard, N.M. "What you're seeing is the first construction and demolition-related storm debris being gathered by this project."
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Fire Island debris removal project
Nov. 24: FEMA tasks Army Corps to remove debris from Fire Island.
Jan. 25: Corps awards contract to Central Islip-based DS3 Enterprises Inc. for $8.8 million.
Jan. 30: Looks Great Services of Huntington village protests the award. Corps re-evaluates bids, determines selection criteria weren't consistently applied.
Feb. 12: Corps receives protest questioning Custom Earth's qualifications.
Feb. 15: DS3 Enterprises files U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) protest against Custom Earth contract award, requiring a stop work order.
Feb. 18: Corps terminates contract with Custom Earth.
Feb. 19: Corps awards $50,000 advance contracting initiative (ACI) contract to Phillips and Jordan of Knoxville, Tenn., to assess debris removal.
Feb. 22: Environmental Chemical Corp. (ECC) of Burlingame, Calif., primary ACI contractor for the Northeast region, files GAO protest.
Feb. 25: ECC withdraws protest. Corps sends request for proposal to ECC for debris removal on the island.
Feb. 26: Islip-based Quintal Contracting Corp. protests that the contract would not be awarded to a local business.
Feb. 27: Corps dismisses Quintal protest, awards $10.1 million task order to ECC and issues notice to proceed.
March 4: Debris consolidation and removal begins.
Source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers