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Choosing Sweeping Equipment

Beach Sweeping in Pensacola a Never-ending Process

by Ranger Kidwell-Ross
article developed in part upon information originally printed in the Pensacola News Journal.

Beach cleaning is an area of the sweeping industry that is often overlooked. However, in municipalities with public beaches the process can be laborious and never-ending. Here is an overview of how one such entity, the Santa Rosa Island Authority, has been handling its beach cleaning process.

Often, and as is the case in Pensacola, the cleanup entails a combination of a traditional power sweeper handling paved areas near the beach, coupled with a dedicated beach cleaner used on the beach itself.

Barber Surf Rake

The City of Pensacola uses an Elgin Pelican street sweeper to handle paved areas surrounding its legendary stretch of beach. The cleanup of the beach itself is accomplished with a John Deere tractor that has a Barber Surf Rake attached to its rear. The machine rakes the sand on the city's entire beach area.

Public Works Supervisor David DeGroote often handles the dirtiest part of the job, checking the restrooms on the beach and taking care of cleanup there. On some days, the 63-year-old DeGroote then operates a John Deere 544k wheel loader to level out mounds of sand that can be covering boat ramps after storm events.

All of these projects start before sunrise. The first shift for the Public Works department starts at 4 a.m. and another shift clocks in at 7, as the staff busily cleans the beach for the public. The third shift starts at 4 p.m. and clocks out at 12:30 a.m., leaving only 3-1/2 hours in which the department shuts down each day.

Most people don't realize the role the city plays in keeping the beachfront clean and beautiful for residents and tourists alike. "We do things a lot of people don't want to do, but we do things that make the island beautiful," says DeGroote, who is in his fifth year with the department and previously served as a paramedic in Indiana and provided tactical fire rescue training to military personnel.

Recently, the public works department came under Escambia County control. The Board of County Commissioners voted in August to assume control of the Public Safety and Public Works departments from the Santa Rosa Island Authority. The Public Works Department consists of 24 full-time employees with an operating budget of $2.8 million, easily topping the five departments the Island Authority controlled before the switch.

Pelican The organization's annual operating budget comes to $3.2 million. In addition to full-time employees – and 15 temps from March through September – the organization operates and maintains a variety of rolling stock, including gator utility vehicles, the Elgin Pelican, the Barber Surf Rake, front loaders and Ford F-150 pickups.

Maintenance supervisor Kevin Griffin, an Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) master technician, says he is responsible for about 90 vehicles between the Public Safety and Public Works departments. Salt and sand beat up the equipment, leaving Griffin busy from the moment he walks in at 7 in the morning until he checks out around 3:30 p.m.

Charlie Morgan, director of Public Works, says the organization's gator fleet, which are used to haul trash, really take a beating because of heavy usage and the salt environment. "In the summer, I'll have 10 of them go out in a day. A machine that's designed to be used five-to-eight-hours-a-week on the farm, we're putting 14-hours-a-day on a machine that's just not designed for that kind of use." The 4 a.m. crew also uses the gator vehicles to assess damage and plan how to beautify the beach. The men then load into the heavy equipment vehicles and set out to complete their tasks.

Ron Christmas operates the organization's Elgin Pelican. He typically boards the street sweeper at about 5 a.m. "[Operating the sweeper] is pretty easy," says Christmas, who served in the Army and then drove semis for a living before the Island Authority offered him a temporary position that turned into a full-time gig six years ago. The weekend or weekday shifts during the height of tourism season are another matter. Debris is everywhere, and the heavy equipment crew carefully steers its vehicles, cognizant of the late-night crowd still wandering around or, in a few instances, sleeping on the beach.

Mike Pinzone, operator of the Pensacola Beach Gulf Pier and owner of Papa's Pizza on the Boardwalk, wakes up by 5 each morning with the comfort of knowing the Public Works Department will make sure the beach is clean by the time he steps out of his door. "I think there's no other beach in the world, and I've traveled to quite a few other ones, that's as pristine as ours," says Pinzone, who is active in the beach chamber. "It's amazing how fast they get everything cleaned up and in order."

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