IOWA DERECHO 2020

2 months after derecho: Tons of trees still to be hauled

Some homeowners face deadlines for getting debris out to curb

A hauler drives Thursday along rows of debris from the Aug. 10 derecho storm at the collection site in Marion. (Jim Slos
A hauler drives Thursday along rows of debris from the Aug. 10 derecho storm at the collection site in Marion. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Linn County communities have picked up more than 2.9 million cubic yards of debris left in the wake of the Aug. 10 derecho’s hurricane-force winds, setting cities up for a monthslong recovery process.

Crews across the hard-hit county continue to work to clear the fallen trees and return streets and parks to more or less normal after the devastating storm — and especially in Iowa’s second-largest city of Cedar Rapids, where the process will take months more because of the sheer volume of debris.

Cedar Rapids

As of Thursday, Cedar Rapids officials had completed making a first pass through about 86 percent of city zones and work is underway to clear tree debris in another nearly 5 percent.

Crews have hauled about 1.5 million cubic yards of tree debris and 270 tons of non-organic debris over the last two months.

Public Works Director Jen Winter said the city expects crews to be well into the second pass of clearing tree debris by winter, though she said the cold weather will not stop the process.

Most debris should be picked up by the second pass, she said, but crews still will complete a third pass after that.

Certified arborists and city staff are working to inspect public right of way trees to prune hazardous limbs and tag trees for removal later.

“We recognize that there is a priority to address those hazardous limbs that are out there due to the storm and we want to eliminate the risk of those limbs falling and causing any future safety issues,” said city Parks and Recreation Director Scott Hock.

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Winter said there is not an estimate on how many trees have been tagged for removal yet because the city has shifted its strategy to first identify precariously positioned limbs.

Jamey Flannery, the owner of Jamey Flannery Trucking, the Wisconsin company Cedar Rapids has contracted with to clear tree debris, said the volume of debris left after the derecho is worse than what he saw in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina.

Compared with cities that experience widespread tree loss more regularly because of natural disasters, he said Cedar Rapids’ tree canopy was older — resulting in more destruction from fallen trees.

About 50 Flannery crews are working alongside some city crews to clear debris. While he acknowledged residents will tire of seeing tree debris and tree removal, Flannery said, “before we leave here, this city will be spotless.”

The city has contracted with DebrisTech to monitor the tree and storm debris removal. Each loading operation has a monitor with it to photograph the truck and create a ticket with information about the load and to make sure the truck is empty when it leaves the dump site.

City officials say this tracking process will help ensure the city is eventually reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Residents may place debris at the curbside for free city pickup or take it to the Linn County Solid Waste Agency for a fee. Tree debris and non-organic storm debris should be placed in separate piles for pickup.

Marion

The city of Marion is in its second pass of debris removal and plans to move on to the next phases of recovery soon.

Marion Public Works Director Ryan Miller said over 800,000 cubic yards of debris already has been collected at the Marion Debris Reduction Facility. The city’s contractor, Southern Disaster Recovery, a South Carolina company, has collected about 650,000 cubic yards of debris.

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“It’s been astounding,” Miller said. “The amount of debris we’ve been collecting is surprising.”

Miller said the city is looking at Oct. 19 as the date for the last pass of debris collection throughout Marion.

The city still has a residential yard waste drop off site at 195 35th St.

“We’re winding down on storm collection now,” Miller said. “We want to make sure we move on at some point.”

Miller said the city will focus next on tree and stump removals and then after that, cleaning up waterways including Indian Creek. The city anticipates there being up to 300,000 cubic yards of debris in waterways.

“That will be a big project in itself,” Miller said. “We have 10 miles of waterways to maintain and get vegetative debris out of there. It’s going to be a long winter.”

Linn County

Linn County has a contract with Ceres Environmental of Minnesota to assist with debris removal in unincorporated areas and county-owned property including parks and trails, said Linn County Communications Director Joi Alexander.

Ceres Environmental began its second of three passes of removal on Sept. 28. Through Oct. 3, 636,488 cubic yards of debris had been collected for the county. The company has been working seven days a week removing debris and clearing “hazard trees.”

Residents in unincorporated parts of Linn County have until Nov. 9 to place their organic storm debris in the right of way to guarantee removal by the county and its contractor, Alexander said. Actual removal may occur after that Nov. 9 deadline.

Alexander said in addition to the debris removal, the county still has four sites available for rural residents to self-haul organic storm debris and drop it off at no charge.

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The four sites are at the former Abbe Home location on County Home Road, the Mount Vernon Secondary Road Shop, the Whittier Secondary Road Shop and the Wickiup Hill Outdoor Learning Center in Toddville. Due to FEMA reimbursement regulations, Alexander said the drop-off sites are only for residents of unincorporated Linn County.

Additionally, the Board of Supervisors previously waived the open-burn permit for residents of unincorporated Linn County through the rest of the year, giving permission to burn organic storm debris.

Other Linn cities

As of Oct. 5, the city of Robins stopped its tree debris collection for residents and the next step is to remove mulch from South Troy Park, where debris has been collected since the storm.

Robins has contracted Miene Septic Service, a local business that also does excavating work. It is estimated the company has chipped 100,000 cubic yards of tree debris and is not finished yet.

Monday is the last day residents can drop off tree debris at South Troy Park. The process of removing the tree debris mulch is expected to take several weeks, closing the park to the public until the spring.

Less populous cities like Alburnett and Springville relied on collaborative neighbors to help clear tree debris, city officials said.

Alburnett City Clerk Danielle Brecht said one full-time and one part-time staff member are maintaining a brush pile of debris from the storm.

The pile is “well over” 200 percent of its capacity, Brecht said. She was unsure how much tree debris had been gathered in terms of cubic yards or tonnage.

City staff did pick up some debris from the right of way, but many people brought their own to the brush pile or had the help of volunteers, she added.

Brecht said the city expects to continue to take brush through winter as people haul more trees.

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“A lot of people helped each other out,” Brecht said. “The city did a little bit here and there with what we could, but most of the time, the city crews were busy maintaining a brush pile as the residents brought their debris.”

Springville City Clerk Dee Wagaman said debris pickup is “pretty much done” and roads have been cleared since the second week after the storm, thanks to “an amazing amount of volunteers.”

City crews first cleared streets and pushed debris onto rights of way, Wagaman said. Then volunteers hauled debris from the right of way to a yard waste site, where a private company hauled it to a county site.

Wagaman said the city is working with FEMA to try to get as much of the nearly $250,000 cost of removal reimbursed.

The city employs two full-time and one part-time public works staff, she said, so Springville did not offer curbside debris pickup.

“We just don’t have the manpower to do that, which is where volunteers came in,” Wagaman said.

Comments: (319) 398-8494; marissa.payne@thegazette.com

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