‘We look like a Third World country’: Russian River communities grapple with heaps of flood debris

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Where To Put Debris

Drop-off sites for non-hazardous debris

Hours: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. through Sunday.

Cost: no fee, but proof of residence or business required.

Locations: Sunset Beach River Park, 11060 River Road, Rio Nido

Guerneville Park and Ride lot, 16514 Main St., Guerneville

Monte Rio Community Center, 20488 Highway 116, Monte Rio

Cazadero Highway at Old Duncan Grade Road, near the bridge, Cazadero

Mirabel Park and Ride, 8691 River Rd., Forestville

Drop-off sites for hazardous materials

Hours: 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday

Where: Guerneville Transfer Station, 13450 Pocket Drive, Guerneville

More information: socoemergency.org

FORESTVILLE — The pile of ruined belongings covered about 15 feet of the narrow roadside in front of Dezzy St. Andre’s River Drive home. Her grandmother’s Christmas ornaments. Waterlogged centerpieces, handmade signs and other mementos from her wedding. Baby keepsakes her mother collected in a box.

“Look at our street,” St. Andre said, motioning to five nearby mounds, easily the size of hers, on her narrow rural residential street. “We look like a Third World country.”

The Russian River overflowed its banks one week ago, and for more than three days its treacherous floodwaters occupied communities along the lower river’s final miles before it meets the sea, turning roads into waterways and subsuming roughly 2,600 homes and businesses. Residents and business owners have just begun to grapple with overwhelming losses.

Heaps of sodden furniture, clothing, equipment and appliances from residences and businesses are growing along roadsides in Forestville, Guerneville, Monte Rio and other river enclaves. Ruined trucks and trailers sit abandoned along the roads, some dumped by the overflowing current in neighbors’ yards.

The amount of wrecked debris left behind is shaping up to be a second-wave disaster.

Sonoma County has established five dump sites where people can bring belongings destroyed in the flood to be hauled away at no cost, as long as they show proof they live or lived in the flooded areas, such as a utility bill. For hazardous materials, a separate collection site will be open Saturday at the Guerneville Transfer Station on Drake Road for residents to bring items like batteries, fertilizers and other potentially toxic substances.

But as the piles of debris grow, so is concern among many residents that the molding, stinky heaps will languish without a county plan to collect it if people don’t — or can’t — drop it off themselves.

“The challenge on the lower Russian River is we have a lot of seniors and people on fixed incomes. They simply don’t have the capacity to get debris to the dump boxes,” Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins said. “They don’t have trucks. They don’t have the ability to do it.”

Debris haulers have already collected upwards of 500 tons of trashed rubbish from the flood on just Saturday and Sunday alone, said Fred Stemmler, general manager of Recology Sonoma Marin. At just one of the county’s dump sites, crews hauled away 36 loads from an official dump location on Drake Road.

That’s roughly 840 cubic yards of waste.

The amount of debris from the flood is staggering. “We’re bracing for about two months of this,” Stemmler said.

The requirement that residents and business owners haul away their own flood debris is apparently a departure from previous years when the county organized curbside collection programs.

Hopkins said the county is forced by federal rules to handle debris cleanup through central sites, and she acknowledged the rules are “very frustrating.”

In order to qualify for emergency assistance grant programs through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the county must keep detailed records to ensure the debris is from flood-impacted homes and businesses.

“We’re looking at millions and millions of dollars in debris removal costs,” said Hopkins, adding that the county must ensure it’s eligible for cleanup assistance. “And given the financial situation the county is in after the (2017) fires, it’s not a cost we can incur.”

Where To Put Debris

Drop-off sites for non-hazardous debris

Hours: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. through Sunday.

Cost: no fee, but proof of residence or business required.

Locations: Sunset Beach River Park, 11060 River Road, Rio Nido

Guerneville Park and Ride lot, 16514 Main St., Guerneville

Monte Rio Community Center, 20488 Highway 116, Monte Rio

Cazadero Highway at Old Duncan Grade Road, near the bridge, Cazadero

Mirabel Park and Ride, 8691 River Rd., Forestville

Drop-off sites for hazardous materials

Hours: 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday

Where: Guerneville Transfer Station, 13450 Pocket Drive, Guerneville

More information: socoemergency.org

Hopkins said people who need help hauling away their damaged belongings can inquire at the county’s temporary assistance center in the former Bank of America Building at 16390 Main St. in Guerneville. Volunteers with two nonprofits, the Center for Social and Environmental Stewardship and the Clean River Alliance, as well as the California Conservation Corps government program, have offered support for people who cannot remove the debris themselves.

But Hopkins acknowledged the county must ensure residents have the help they need, given the sheer volume of materials destroyed by the flood.

“It’s a crucial need and, in my opinion, it’s a matter of public health, safety and environmental health,” Hopkins said. “We don’t want this debris sitting around rotting.”

In front of Dee Dee’s Guerneville Graphics and Printing on Main Street, Dee Dee Rydberg and her husband already have hauled onto the curbside two tons of soggy paper stock, an expensive blueprint-copying machine and other destroyed items from her business. She and her helpers were careful to sort electronics and hazardous materials into separate piles.

So Rydberg was chagrined to learn that all the work she did wasn’t enough. For now, she plans to leave the piles by the road.

“We’re forcing the issue,” Rydberg said

Next door, Shannon Amaya stood under the 6-foot ice cream cone above her red-tagged business, Flavors Unlimited.

“No, I won’t be doing that,” said Amaya, meaning she doesn’t plan to stack her refuse in the street. “There are dumpsters. My husband’s a contractor, he has a pickup.”

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.

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