FBI Questions Hurricane Harvey Debris Cleanup

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FBI agents have interviewed the former Houston Solid Waste Management Department official who coordinated the first weeks of debris cleanup after Hurricane Harvey.

Keith Edgar resigned just weeks after the hurricane, reportedly frustrated over the way the cleanup was being handled.

News of the FBI interview comes just days after the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General confirmed an investigation into more than $370,000 in campaign contributions Mayor Turner has received from disaster contractors, both before and after Hurricane Harvey. Dolcefino Consulting has provided federal investigators with documents detailing the contracts and contributions.

At least one recent disaster contract was handed out to Tetra Tech this summer by Houston City Council for debris monitoring in likely future storms. The two subcontractors on that deal are IMS Engineers and Isani Consultants – both are large campaign donors to the Mayor. The Houston Chronicle recently questioned the IMS Engineers contributions to Mayor Turner in a report detailing the amount of money by city contractors.

News of the FBI debris questions comes as one of the former debris contractors says, “Taxpayers got screwed in the debris cleanup.”

“I absolutely think it should be investigated, and I also think that contractors like me should be made whole,” John Yensan told Dolcefino Consulting in an interview from New York.

Yensan runs an environmental cleanup company called Ontario Specialty Contracting.

They came to town days after the hurricane with dozens of trucks. Yensan says their deployment was personally requested by Mayor Turner.

Ontario was awarded a signed purchase order of $16.8 million. Once the trucks arrived, they were told to pick up debris in only two small sections of the city.

After just two weeks the company was forced to pull out, frustrated that they were being kept out of many areas of town because particular companies had been awarded exclusive rights to pick up debris.

“There was debris all over the city and we combed the city and we even located some areas where we thought we could more effective, but we were told we can’t just pick up and move to those areas,” said Yensan.

Many sections of the city were awarded exclusively to DRC, the company with a stand-by contract for disaster services. The company was allowed to significantly raise the cost of the cleanup despite a contract to clean up at lower costs. A DRC executive helped Turner in his run for mayor.

Ontario is considering legal action against the City of Houston to recoup the hundreds of thousands of dollars the company lost on the disaster deployment. The company was paid only $1.25 million for their role in the cleanup – less than a tenth of what they were originally promised.

“I know I had personal conversations with Harry Hayes and Mayor Turner and to my detriment relied upon the information that they gave me, and they are the ones that put me in the situation that we’re in. So, do I blame them? Yes, I do,” said Yensan.

The cleanup in Houston after Hurricane Harvey lasted through Thanksgiving 2017.