Contractor Hired to Chip Tornado Debris in Harwich

HARWICH – The Town of Harwich is hiring a contractor to break down approximately 40,000 cubic yards of brush and debris collected after last month’s tornado.

This comes as a response to locals and town officials who are concerned that the huge pile of collected material at the town’s landfill are a fire hazard.

Harwich Fire Chief Norman Clarke expressed concern that the brush-debris pile is beginning to show signs of generating heat at the land fill and that this could lead to internal combustion, igniting the pile in a gulf of flames.

Clarke said that if a fire were to start it would take many hours to extinguish and require thousands of gallons of water to contain.

After speaking with the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, Clarke was able to determine that the best approach to the issue was to send the debris through a chipper.

Officials in Harwich have estimated that as many as 3,000 trees were lost in the tornado that touched down in Harwich center.

With branches and debris littered across town, residents were given free access to the landfill to dispose of the material.

So much debris was collected that a second large pile had to be started.

Deputy Fire Chief David LeBlanc said that 90 degree days combined with summertime humidity can fuel combustion.

“It’s something we need to move on sooner than later, it can’t wait until springtime,” he said.

Town Administrator Christopher Clark put an action plan in motion after receiving a letter of concern from Clarke.

Assistant Town Administrator Joseph Powers who is also the town procurement officer, worked alongside DPW Director Lincoln Hooper to obtain quotes to have the piles chipped.

The project calls for grinding approximately 40,000 cubic yards of brush at the disposal area, with the contractor providing the grinder, excavator, and the front-end loader to windrow the chips on site.

Five companies sent in bid prices and estimates. Powers recommended giving the job to local Robert B. Our Company, the low bidder at $120,000.

Bids and estimates ranged from as high as $162,400.

Chipping at the landfill began a week ago.

After the debris is chipped, it will still be a factor according to LeBlanc who said chips can heat up faster.

Hooper said the DPW has cleared a swath of trees at the landfill to make room for the process and the resulting windrows, which he said will be strips of chips piled 18 feet high and 24 feet wide, will be at lengths suitable for storage.

The plan moving forward is for the DPW to retain the windrows at the landfill which will require turning them over a couple of times a year to prevent heat buildup; eventually the chips will get mixed with compost and converted to loam.

The 40,000 cubic yards of brush and debris will be reduced to about 10,000 yard when shredded.

The result will be not true wood chip material that people put in their yards, but rather a coarser product that is stringier.

“The ultimate goal, I think where we’re headed is to do one of two things either chip them again and that makes pretty good mulch, so make mulch,” said Clark.

“The other option is to mix it with soil and make compost, so the ultimate end is to try to find a way to reuse it but the immediate concern is to make it safe enough where it’s not going to present a fire hazard.”

According to Hooper, it is estimated that it will take Our Company about a month to complete the work.  

About Luke Leitner

Luke Leitner grew up in Watertown Massachusetts and now lives in West Yarmouth on the Cape. He has been a part of the news team in the News Center since the spring of 2019. He studied business communications at Western New England University.
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