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To the left of the Sanibel Island Lighthouse in the middle, the aftermath on the island is pictured. On the right, the island is seen before the hurricane hit.

The Sanibel Island Lighthouse remained standing even as Hurricane Ian wrought major damage on the area. On the left, the island is seen following the storm. On the right, Sanibel Island is pictured before the hurricane hit.

Spring 2023

Restoring Hope, Rebuilding Dreams


Contractors help Sanibel Island get back on its feet as it heals and rebuilds

Clock Icon 9 MIN READ

In the wake of Hurricane Ian, the destruction to Sanibel Island seems endless. Blue roofs provided by FEMA cover thousands of damaged homes until permanent repairs can be made. Debris is stacked up where businesses once thrived along the island’s main drag, Periwinkle Way. Downed trees lay scattered like matchsticks. Boats lie stranded on shore miles from their slips. Sections of the three-mile causeway connecting Sanibel Island to the Florida mainland were swept out to sea, cutting off access. Defiantly, the 140-year-old Sanibel Island Lighthouse remains standing, a lonely beacon of hope. But help is on the way.

When Hurricane Ian barreled into Southwest Florida on September 27, 2022, it was one of the strongest to ever strike the state. A Category 4 storm, Ian packed a wallop, with 150‑mph winds and up to 15 feet of storm surge, or the abnormal rise in water level above sea level. Sanibel Island, along with the rest of Lee County including Pine Island, Captiva Island, and Fort Myers Beach, were among the hardest-hit areas.

Within three weeks, temporary repairs allowed the Sanibel Causeway to reopen. And within three months, 80 percent of the debris on the island had been collected. Superior Construction and CrowderGulf have played important roles in this remarkable story of people banding together to try to quickly restore some sense of normal life.

Unprecedented storm

Scott Krawczuk, Sanibel deputy public works director, has worked on the island for 22 years. Hurricane Ian was his fourth major storm. “Ian is unprecedented,” he says. “Just an unbelievable amount of damage. Far worse than Hurricane Charley in 2004, which was devastating, but mainly a vegetation event.”

To put the storm in perspective, three months after Ian, CrowderGulf and numerous subcontractors had collected almost one million cubic yards of debris, compared to around 360,000 cubic yards for Charley within the same time frame. “Their response to Ian has been incredible, hauling large amounts of debris in such a short time,” says Krawczuk. “Our goal is to get life back to normal for our 6,300 residents as quickly as possible. CrowderGulf is an important partner, and we couldn’t do this without them.”

Headquartered in Mobile, Alabama, the company has been contracted with Sanibel Island since Hurricane Charley. CrowderGulf is a national full-service debris-management firm, with over 50 years of experience throughout the United States. The origins of the company go back to 1969, when brothers John and Woodie Ramsay joined forces with local contractors to clean up after Hurricane Camille devastated the Mississippi Gulf Coast. In 1984, the brothers began doing business as Gulf Equipment Corporation, an Alabama general contractor licensed in seven south-eastern states. In 2002, CrowderGulf was formally created by John Ramsay as an independent disaster debris-management company.

The company helps communities recover from disasters rapidly and efficiently. “We put all our efforts into making this happen fast so communities can recover and begin rebuilding as quickly as possible,” says Vice President Lyman Ramsay.

Tip of the spear

CrowderGulf began preparing for Hurricane Ian even before it made landfall. Pre-event contracts ensure a plan is in place, so the company is prepared to respond and on standby. In the days leading up to the storm, project managers are moved to safe locations closer to the impact area so they can be deployed quickly after the storm.

The company works closely with local and regional officials to determine the best locations for debris-management sites (DMS), which are temporary storage and processing facilities for debris collected after the storm. A DMS location is specified in the pre-event contract, but because of the magnitude of Hurricane Ian, additional DMS were secured from the Department of Environmental Protection immediately before the storm.

“We’re moving 23‑ to 25,000 cubic yards per day,” says Barrett Holmes, CrowderGulf’s senior project manager on Sanibel Island. “Having those additional DMS spread across the island enables us to move large volumes of material very efficiently and rapidly.”

Holmes is a retired colonel with more than 30 years of leadership and management experience in the United States Army, which makes him uniquely qualified for the job. As a commander of engineer units, his responsibilities included staging and moving military equipment across rivers. Because the causeway was out after Hurricane Ian, his team actually barged over 1,200 pieces of equipment to the island during the first two weeks after the storm.

“As we say in the military, we’re the tip of the spear,” says Holmes. “We’re the first people going into disaster areas, trying to help as many people as possible. When things are at their worst, I like to think we’re at our best.”


Sustainable processes

Within 24 hours of landfall, CrowderGulf’s operations team began road-clearing operations. The initial focus, or the “push operation,” is on clearing the roads and getting the right mix of machines on the ground. This includes immediately driving the area and performing flyovers to plan waste flow.

“From the very beginning we are focused on determining what assets we need to keep turnaround time as quick as possible,” says Ramsay. “We have a seasoned, professional group of managers who really understand this, so everything runs smoothly. Our goal is to minimize congestion and maximize efficiency, so we can get the most utilization out of the fewest number of machines. The more loads the better.”

Once the equipment is in place, CrowderGulf and its subcontractors begin hauling debris to a nearby DMS location. Residents are given specific instructions on how to sort debris along rights-of-way. Vegetative and construction materials are separated. “White goods,” or major appliances such as washers, dryers, and refrigerators, and electronics are set aside for processing and recycling. Hazardous waste such as paint, solvents, and batteries are removed and transported to a disposal facility.

At the DMS, debris is unloaded into piles that are fed into powerful grinders. John Deere loaders and excavators help move the ground-up debris into trucks to be hauled off. These materials are used to make paper products, mulch, forest products, tree cultivation, biomass fuel, landfill cover, wood pallets, and many other repurposed needs. “Everything possible is done so most of the material is reused and not just put in a landfill,” says Holmes.

Sense of duty

The road to recovery for Sanibel will be long. Most of the city’s infrastructure was damaged or destroyed. Krawczuk believes that will take a year to a year and a half of rebuilding. And it will be several years before many of the businesses open and homes are rebuilt. But the efforts of CrowderGulf, Superior Construction, and other contractors have made life more bearable with each passing day.

“CrowderGulf’s president, Ashley Ramsay-Naile, always tells us we need to be at the right place at the right time to help as many people as possible,” says Holmes. “And that’s what we’re doing here. The community has been extremely appreciative and thankful we’re here trying to get everyone back on their feet as quickly as possible.”

“To see the impact of the hurricane on people’s lives really gives us a sense of duty,” adds Ramsay. “We’ve seen so much good in people. Neighbors helping neighbors. People coming from all over the world to lend a hand.”

Every week Ramsay drives around the island, revisiting places to see the progress made. “Our company and a first-class group of subcontractors and other contractors came here to make a difference in people’s lives. And I believe we have.”


Reconnecting a life line

Every week Ramsay drives around top priority immediately after Hurricane Ian was temporarily repairing the Sanibel Causeway, the lifeline connecting the island to the Florida mainland. Initial predictions were that the repairs would take months. With the help of Superior Construction of Jacksonville, Florida, they took just three weeks. “It’s something that shows a little bit of can-do spirit,” says Ron DeSantis, governor of Florida.

Superior Construction, in a joint venture with the DeMoya Group, was one of two companies awarded contracts to make the emergency repairs to the Sanibel Causeway. “We got here the day after the hurricane and mobilized right away,” says Todd Hernly, divisional superintendent, Superior Construction. “We inspected the damage by boat. The sand and material that the causeway was built of was gone. It was out in the ocean.”

The company immediately reached out to its partners and began running 200 to 300 trucks around the clock, including over 100 of its own vehicles and employees. “The biggest challenge was the speed and logistics,” says Hernly. “We had to haul so many loads of fill a day into such a small area, with the causeway gone and little room to maneuver. It was very challenging to get the trucks in, get them dumped, and get them out of there as fast as we could.”

Crews hauled 8,200 loads in the first week. “We had many John Deere dozers, excavators, and haul trucks out here,” says Hernly. “The dozers were doing the brunt of the work. They really got it done for us.”

Crews hauled approximately 10,000 cubic yards per shift. For environmental reasons, much of the material was dredged and reclaimed from the bay. Other material was sourced from quarries and pits from the surrounding area.

“The hurricane really moved a lot of material,” says Hernly. “My family has vacationed down here every year for decades, so that really hit home. Seeing everything gone and debris stacked up where there used to be our favorite restaurants and bars — it’s heartbreaking.”

The company is waiting on the final design for the causeway and will then begin working on permanent repairs. “We will be on this project for another year,” says Hernly. “We have a lot of work ahead of us.”

Superior Construction’s guiding principle is, “You make a living by what you get, but you make a life by what you give.” The company is a fourth-generation family firm. Rapid response to disasters and reestablishing infra- structure and cleanup is an important part of its business.

Hernly is proud to be giving back. “People are so grateful, honking and waving at us and thanking us,” he says. “It’s great to have that support, and it’s exhilarating to see the island come back to life. When I come back in a few years as a tourist and drive across the causeway, I’ll be able to say I was a part of that. That will mean a lot and feel good.”

For Hurricane Ian recovery efforts in Florida, CrowderGulf and Superior Construction are serviced by Beard Equipment.

Clockwise from top left. A John Deere 650K LGP Dozer utilized by Superior Construction moves sand to temporarily repair the Sanibel Causeway. CrowderGulf uses a John Deere 300G LC Excavator to load debris into trucks in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. Andrew Brady, an operator with Superior Construction, uses a 700K LGP Dozer to help rebuild the Sanibel Causeway. Michael Drabst, an operator for CrowderGulf, uses a 160G LC Excavator to remove debris from a damaged home. CrowderGulf utilizes a John Deere 524 P‑Tier Wheel Loader to feed debris into grinders in Sanibel Island, Florida.

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