hr flooding 101118 p04

Tropical Storm Michael caused flash flooding around the Roanoke Valley last October.

Everybody from a third grade teacher to the host of a particularly enthusiastic party to the baseball clubhouse manager of World Series champions is looking for the same answer. How are we going to straighten this mess up?

One reader looks beyond a nettlesome cleanup.

Q: With all the horrible storms nationwide and overseas, and with complete towns destroyed, what is done with the resulting debris?

Aline McKenna, Lexington

A: Regardless of one’s belief in climate change, most would still allow that the recent volume of severe weather and other natural disasters have offered ample opportunity for municipalities to practice tidying up the aftermath.

Even though each catastrophe is different, there is general agreement that it is better to have an action plan in place than to start looking for the keys to the garbage truck as the funnel cloud starts to tango down Main Street.

Make no mistake, our property faces an intimidating world of threats. A Solid Waste Association of North America report “Managing Wastes Produced by Natural Disasters” provides an inventory: hurricanes, typhoons, earthquakes, tornados, tsunamis, wildfires, floods, volcanoes and ice storms.

Let’s not forget man-made mischief listed by the report, including oil and industrial chemical spills, transportation accidents and the release of chemical, biological or radiological materials from terrorist attacks and homeland security incidents.

All manner of hazards such as asbestos and other dangerous materials are likely to be involved, and must be identified and dealt with appropriately.

Take it from the Federal Emergency Management Agency when it urged all local, state, and tribal governments to “take a proactive approach to coordinating and managing debris removal operations as part of their overall emergency management planning efforts.”

That friendly advice comes from the introduction to FEMA’s 2009 supplement “Debris Management Plan Student Workshop.”

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality at its website offers this reminder to the localities: “Local governments are responsible for developing and maintaining Local Emergency Operations Plans, which should include a section on Debris Management.”

The rationale is straightforward.

“Making decisions ahead-of-time about how your locality or planning unit intends to collect and manage various types of waste will reduce delays in response and recovery efforts, minimize misinformation to the public, and maximize potential for reimbursement from Federal Emergency Management Agency Public Assistance programs.”

Such plans, says DEQ, should address staff roles; collection methods (curb pickup, customer drop-off, etc.); management options (reuse, recycle, mulch and compost, landfill, etc.); potential locations for emergency debris management sites; available additional resources (heavy equipment, more personnel, etc.); contract services for cleanup and monitoring; procedures for private property demolition and removal; and means of sharing information with the public.

Those localities that have no recovery plan may consult an abbreviated checklist the department offers “to help you answer key questions in order to initiate debris removal activities.”

Be not misled, the job aid “is not intended to replace the more thorough planning process required to develop a formal debris management plan, but is instead for your use during real-time disaster response and recovery situations.”

Among incentives for a complete preparation plan — localities that have one may be treated more favorably with FEMA assistance reimbursement rates.

Another advantage of being ready is having the required paperwork filed ahead of time for a proposed emergency use site. In such manner, the site may be pre-approved by DEQ, eliminating a crucial step in the recovery process.

No permit is required for an emergency site dedicated to vegetative debris.

Guidelines for waste management facility operators and homeowners are also covered.

Homeowners are urged to separate waste types such as white goods (large appliances); electronics and e-waste; household waste (bagged trash, spoiled food, etc.); household hazardous waste (solvents, batteries, pesticides, paint, etc.); and vegetative waste.

Additional information about disaster waste disposal is included on the federal Environmental Protection Agency site

A general waste management plan is available for Roanoke’s city government at More information on the city’s emergency response capabilities is at

Still more trashy reading is at Roanoke County’s site and the Roanoke Valley Resource Authority site

Seek similar information at other localities’ home pages or municipal offices.

About that climate thing, the Solid Waste Association report begins as follows: “There is increasing evidence linking climate change to extreme weather events and natural disasters … Therefore it is very important to put in place plans, procedures and systems, prior to the disaster event, to manage the waste materials generated.”

If you’ve been wondering about something, call “What’s on Your Mind?” at 777-6476 or send an email to Don’t forget to provide your full name (and its proper spelling if by phone) and hometown.

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