Dave Rogers / For The Record

Hurricane Harvey debris removal trucks should be moving about Orange County Wednesday.

Just don’t ask where.

Buddy Lofton, project manager for Orange County’s FEMA-approved debris removal contractor AshBritt, told commissioners’ court Tuesday he’s spent the last few days surveying residential debris piles in unincorporated areas of the county, even doing aerial surveys.

“We’re trying to attack the worst-hit places first,” he said, while admitting he hadn’t completed his surveying.

Tuesday, there were parts of the county where the roads were still under water.

But Lofton said he had two trucks in the county Tuesday and at least eight more are on their way. Each truck can hold 125 cubic yards of trash.

Hurricane Harvey, reduced to a tropical storm by the time it showered the county with more than 50 inches of rain, flooded 65 to 70 percent of the 30,000-odd residences in Orange County, County Judge Stephen Brint Carlton said Tuesday.

That’s two to three times more homes than suffered water damage in Hurricane Ike, in 2007.

AshBritt was the county’s debris removal contractor for Ike, too. Lofton admitted Tuesday he needed six months to complete the cleanup job after Ike.

“We’re going to ramp up to full speed in the next couple of days,” he promised.

Besides the size of the affected area this time around, a big difference between the debris removal from Ike to Harvey is where FEMA says the county’s contractor can pick up.

First, FEMA will not reimburse for debris removal at businesses, non-profits such as churches, and apartments.

Secondly, FEMA initially told Carlton that incorporated cities in the county – Orange, West Orange, Pinehurst, Bridge City and Vidor – would not be allowed to “piggyback” on the county’s contract as in the past.

That would cause the cities a big financial hit.

After Hurricane Ike, the city up-fronted all of the cost for debris removal and FEMA, eventually, reimbursed 75 percent of that.

This year, the reimbursement from FEMA is set to be 90 percent, but if the county can’t pick up for the cities, then the cities must pay their 10 percent.

Carlton estimated that the cost of debris removal for the entire county would be at least $15 million.

The City of Orange has signed a deal with its own contractor, who should begin picking up the city debris in a few days.

But the city of West Orange delayed signing up a debris contractor of its own at Monday night’s meeting after hearing FEMA was reconsidering letting the cities “piggyback” with the county.

Carlton and all area city’s mayors met with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Saturday in Beaumont and apprised him of the situation. Abbott arranged a Monday meeting for Carlton with FEMA management.

“They’re still reviewing our overall contract to make sure that will allow that relationship between the county and the cities,” the judge said.

He hoped to hear back any day as to whether he could enlarge AshBritt’s theater of operation.

Lofton admitted that having to get his trash haulers aware of city boundaries was going to make the job harder than during Ike, when he picked up for the entire county.

And, as Orange city manager Shawn Oubre said at his city council meeting, the key will be getting residents to follow FEMA’s rules.

Those include sorting their trash into four separate piles, according to type of debris, no farther than 10 feet from the street.

Many people have pointed out that the piles of waterlogged carpet and sheetrock, ruined furniture and appliances at their homes wouldn’t fit in such a small pile.

Oubre said the city had contracted for its hauler, D&J Contractors, to make two rounds of pickups.

FEMA has again approved the county’s landfill to be its debris management site, or county collection spot. From the landfill near the Expo Center on FM 1442, trucks will ultimately take it to a disposal site in Newton County, Carlton said.

The final step is a permit from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

“We’ve got the permit,” Carlton said, “and we’re ready to go.”