Gettin’ Busy in the Forest

Lieutenant Planet is currently in Tallahassee. This comes after a major win in the Ocala National Forest!

Originally, I was passing through ONF to camp for the night. The recreational areas there are privately maintained, and not affected by the shutdown. After camping, I was driving West on FL-40 through the forest and I noticed there was trash EVERYWHERE. The roadsides aren’t officially part of the National Forest, and they had been allowed to languish. So I decided to stop there for longer and start cleaning while I figured out who (if anyone) was responsible for roadsides.

I committed the Lieutenant Planet initiative to cleaning the entire East-West stretch of FL-40 through the forest. I spent 5-6 hours a day picking up trash, and organized a community cleanup event through the local churches, the newspaper, and various schools and volunteer organizations. I also talked to the Florida Department of Transportation about the mess and they agreed to get the full bags cleaned up after we were done. When the day came for the cleanup, 5 people came, 4 of them from out of town. It wasn’t the turnout I was hoping for, but it ended up getting the job done anyway, even though we didn’t get a lot (relative to the size of the project- 17 miles of trashed roadway) done. How then? The power of action!

LIV the Planet-Van and is Cleanup-Event-ready!

I’ll explain:

When I called the DoT, they called the company subcontracted for road maintenance, DBi Services, and told them that there was a guy coordinating an event using local media to clean up the park’s roadsides. Which isn’t a good thing for a company that has hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts through the Florida DoT. So a few days of cleaning up after the event, I’m heading to Juniper Springs campsite to shower.

I would like to mention here that the juniper springs staff was very friendly and let me have the cleanup right outside their park. They also let anyone cleaning the roadside into the park for free to use the restrooms or get food and drinks. They also expressed concern over the roadways and offered to try to hold their own cleanup event!

So I’m heading down the road and I see two guys on golf carts, picking up trash on the roadsides. Their truck says DBi Services. Previous to this, I didn’t know that they were subcontracted by the DoT. I stopped the van and talked to them, asking where they were from, who paid them, how often they came out, etc. They told me what company they worked for, that they were contracted by DoT, and that they usually came out every couple months to mow, but “someone” had lodged a complaint about the roadsides and organized a cleanup event and talked to the newspaper. I was filled with pride at the moment, but just gave them a “you don’t say” response and left to take a happy shower.

Next day, I called the DoT again, this time talking to the local yard manager, Jeff. He walked me through some of the requirements and parameters that DBi has as per their contract, and gave me the number to their customer service department. At that time, they only had a complaint about the roads on FL-40 near Juniper Springs. But now, armed with new information, I called back.

As per their contract, there is only supposed to be up to 3 square feet of trash per mile of roadway. I was collecting a 30-gallon trash bag full every 100-200 yards, and I told them so. Also, as per their contract, they have to actively respond to citizen complaints within 48 hours. But I broadened the scope of the complaint to include ALL of FL-40 through the forest, as well as ALL of FL-19 through the forest, which goes North and South. They told me it would take two weeks to get it cleaned up.

At this point I stopped cleaning the mess myself and let the guys getting paid to do it take over. I dedicated a day to giving out the correct numbers to call if the roadsides got trashed again to employees at various recreational areas throughout the forest. And I will share them with you, my wonderful readers, as well:

First contact: DBi Services Customer Service Request Line for the Ocala area: 352-622-6279

If that doesn’t get results: Local FDoT Maintenance Yard: 352-620-3000

I, myself, went a little above and beyond as well, and contacted the FDoT’s Fraud Department and opened a ticket with them about the contract requirements not being met, just as another oversight measure. But sadly, DBi Services has met enough of their requirements to keep their contract. What I found out was that DBi’s performance rating goal for road maintenance is only an 80%. As per the 2016-17 Performance and Production Review, page 68, their composite score for the area was 84%.

And herein lies the problem. The contracts are made through legislators, and the performance that the legislators require is layed out in the FDoT 2017 Performance Report:

 “To determine the maintenance rating, field conditions are evaluated by rating each highway component to develop an overall maintenance condition score. Conditions are compared to FDOT standards and a composite state score is set. The maintenance condition rating system evaluates five highway components:

• Roadway – potholes, pavement joints, paved shoulders, and pavement distress

• Roadside – unpaved shoulders, slopes, sidewalks, and fences

• Traffic services – signs, lighting, guardrails, striping, attenuators, handrail, and pavement markers

• Drainage – storm drains, ditches, roadway sweeping, inlets, and pavement edge drain outlets

• Vegetation/aesthetics – landscaping, litter removal, turf condition, and tree trimming”

With a composite score system, a contractor could literally never pick up litter and still meet and exceed the 80% requirement to keep their contract, as long as nobody calls to file a complaint.

And this is exactly what DBi Services was doing. It was woefully apparent that they were just mowing over trash instead of picking it up, which meant large pieces of trash were turned into dozens of small pieces of trash. I saw this every day I was out on the roadsides picking it up- crushed bottles, shredded Styrofoam and plastic, pieces of rubber tires pushed into the dirt, etc.

The big win for Lieutenant Planet was a big win for Ocala National Forest. I charged Tara, an employee at Juniper Springs who was intensely interested in cleaning up the forest, with being the first line of defense for the Forest for the foreseeable future, as Juniper Springs is on FL-40 and also near FL-19. She told me that Lieutenant Planet had taken a big first step and had gotten a lot of people excited about keeping the forest clean, and that she would use the contacts I gave her whenever it was needed.

I am proud of the progress of this initiative, and I hope it can keep doing wonderful works. Ocala National Forest is healing, but DBi Services is under contract for 592 miles of roadway just in that one (out of nine) zone of Florida through the FDoT. The next step is to contact our legislators and tell them to do away with the composite scoring system, and make the requirement to keep their contracts 80% (90?) for EACH category. If the FDoT employees could do it before DBi was given the contract, then DBi can do it, too. It’s our tax dollars at work here! We can demand better!

And that is why Lieutenant Planet is now in Florida’s capital. The next goal is to find out what it will take to change those contracts for the health of Florida’s environment.

Along those lines, if you want to be a part of the Lieutenant Planet initiative of environmental activism and journalism, you can support the effort by subscribing for as little as $1/month on Patreon. A subscription will also give you access to my video-series and travel log as I span the country, as well as show legislators the strength of the political will of the Lieutenant Planet movement! BE the change you want to see, the power is yours!

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