Collegedale residents say storm debris cleanup goes slowly

Collegedale residents say storm debris cleanup goes slowly

July 29th, 2011 by Kate Belz in News

Drew Biggs of Cross Cut Tree Service uses a chain saw to cut the trunks of pine trees into sections Thursday on the property of Darlene Foote, who says Collegedale has been slow to clean up after the April 27 storms.

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.


Collegedale is planning a citywide storm-debris sweep starting Monday. All tree debris must be pulled to the curb by that date to ensure it gets picked up. After the sweep, regular brush pickup will resume on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month.

Source: Collegedale

Dismembered trees line Pennywood Lane in Collegedale -- the giant remnants of what once were key members of the neighborhood. Travel up nearby Edgemon Road and the brush becomes a 10-foot wall in front of the Foote family residence.

"There was lots of response in the beginning, but we haven't seen trucks here since the end of May," said Darlene Foote.

Three months after tornadoes tore oaks, pines and maples from thousands of acres across the region, there's still confusion in some communities about the cleanup: who will do it, where it will happen, and when.

The storms leveled about three dozen trees on the Foote property, bringing four down on her house. Because the home currently is deemed unlivable, Foote's five-member family has stayed in a two-bedroom rental since April 27.

In the meantime, volunteers helped them clear off initial damage. This week, she hired contractors to cut down another dozen trees an arborist has deemed irreparably "storm-damaged," with split trunks and twisted tops.

Debris from that project has joined the wall, resulting in what Foote describes as harsh rebukes from city workers, who have accused her of taking advantage of the disaster for landscaping purposes.

"They say I'm abusing the system. But do you really think that I wanted to lose all those pines? Do you think I'm just wanting to slit my land?" asked Foote. "No, I hated it. It breaks my heart."

City Manager Ted Rogers said the city's reluctance to move her brush is based on city statute.

"We don't really count the trees coming down after the fact as storm debris," he explained. "And If contractors are doing their own work, they are supposed to remove the debris."

Foote said the community hasn't been made aware of those stipulations.

Rogers also said the staggered period of pickup is due to an understaffed public works department. The city, which has a population of about 8,200 people, has a 15-man public works department, according to Rogers.

"I know there's people upset; they think we should have it done by now. ... But this tornado and this utterly overwhelmed us," said City Manager Ted Rogers, noting that the city has stopped debris cleanup altogether at times to tend to other projects like paving and mowing.

FEMA policy states that in the case of large-scale disasters, local governments in counties declared a "disaster area" must help remove "disaster-generated debris" from private property for the sake of public safety, eliminating "significant damage to improved property," and ensuring economic recovery.

Each city in the storm-ravaged region has crafted a unique plan for tackling debris. Two other small municipalities in Hamilton County -- East Ridge and Red Bank -- took different tacks for clearing their tonnage of trees.

East Ridge took on the task itself, borrowing an extra truck and hiring temporary labor with state grant money. Crews worked 12-hour days every day since the storms. Red Bank hired out a contractor, DTS Inc., which made two extensive citywide sweeps.

Both cities reported that they finished the task this week, ahead of schedule.

Both Red Bank City Manager Chris Dorsey and East Ridge City Manager Tim Gobble said their brush cleanup crews typically refuse to clear off debris from private tree-cutting companies. But during storm cleanup, both cities decided to pick up whatever they saw.

"Because there was so much of it, if it was at the road, we just picked it up. It just gets too complicated otherwise," said Gobble.

Collegedale has set a Monday deadline for residents to put storm-related tree debris by the side of the road. That day a contracted truck from Utility Construction Co. will start making a citywide sweep and will keep it up "until it's all finished," Rogers said.

Rogers said after that point Foote's brush likely will be picked up, but they don't plan to cut much slack in future pickup.

"At some point we have to set a limit," said Rogers. "People have had plenty of time."