Spokane street crews hope to have the hundreds of trees and debris that fell into city streets during Wednesday’s windstorm completely cleared by Sunday, working 20 hours a day with employees from several different departments.
As of Friday morning, there were more than 100 trees left to clear throughout the city, many of which are on the South Hill. Clint Harris, director of Spokane’s street department, said the city had pulled employees from other departments and work, such as bridge repair and water, and assigned them to tree removal to clear streets as soon as possible.
“It’s all hands on deck for this clean up,” he said.
He said many of the city employees who have been deployed around town to clean up fallen trees have only had one day off, if any, between large weather events after the city had to quickly transition both workers and equipment from handling snow and ice to cleaning up after the massive windstorm that disrupted power and internet and knocked down hundreds of trees throughout the city and county.
He said smaller trees and debris can usually be cleared in an hour or two, but there have been several old and very large trees that have taken six or seven hours for street crews to remove from the right-of-way. The largest tree street crews have cleared had a diameter that was close to 4 feet.
Sean Barley, the lead foreperson for city street crews that were working on the South Hill, said more trees fell in the 2015 windstorm, but the trees that fell in this windstorm were much larger, with some causing significant damage. Many of the trees that fell were Ponderosa pines or Douglas fir.
“These are the trees that somebody’s grandfather planted,” he said.
He said in some neighborhoods, it took a full day to clear a single block, because of the concentration of old trees and the damage to natural gas and sewage lines after they were ripped from the ground.
Harris said safety has also been a concern for workers as they try to keep traffic and pedestrians away from work sites, and wait for Avista and other departments to address downed power lines or natural gas leaks caused by the storm.
Barley said street teams had stopped counting trees and were now just keeping track of debris by how many trucks they loaded. He said he counted 16 truckloads of debris in the first three hours of work Friday morning. Once the trees and debris are loaded, they’re transported to an empty lot to eventually be put through a wood chipper.
Marlene Feist, director of strategic development and public works for the city, said about 150 trees have fallen into the right-of-way and about 130 trees had fallen in parks.
Spokane County has also seen hundreds of trees or debris fall into the road, but workers have pushed most of the debris to the sides for now, making it safe to drive. Spokane County Public Works and Information Outreach Manager Martha Lou Wheatley-Billeter said it would take county employees three to four weeks to clear debris from the road, and workers have found debris or trees on 140 roads across the county’s road system, ranging from very rural areas to suburban neighborhoods.
“It’s going to take a while for us to get everything cleared up,” she said.
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