Wake County

Raleigh moves to clean storm debris from thousands of properties

A pile of lumber and yard debris from recent snow and ice storms awaits pick up in front of homes at the dead end of Tenderfoot Trail in the Durant Hills neighborhood in North Raleigh Friday, March 20, 2015. Beginning Saturday, March 21, 2015 the City of Raleigh will have at least five city crews and a private contractor begin picking up the storm debris.
A pile of lumber and yard debris from recent snow and ice storms awaits pick up in front of homes at the dead end of Tenderfoot Trail in the Durant Hills neighborhood in North Raleigh Friday, March 20, 2015. Beginning Saturday, March 21, 2015 the City of Raleigh will have at least five city crews and a private contractor begin picking up the storm debris. hlynch@newsobserver.com

Collection trucks and contract workers will hit the streets with a formidable task ahead of them over the next few weeks. Debris from two icy storms, including fallen trees, are waiting at thousands of properties across the city.

The trucks will be collecting any storm debris they find on residential curbs within city limits.

“We realized that we don’t have the resources in the city to collect this debris quickly,” said Frederick Battle, director of solid waste services. So the city will activate an emergency contract with CrowderGulf for extra collection equipment and people.

“We’re going to go down every street, collect everything that’s out there,” Battle said.

The collection could take two to three weeks, he said.

It has been just more than three weeks since a winter storm dropped several inches of snow across the Triangle and beyond. The heavy, wet snowfall snapped tree limbs and knocked out power to more than 130,000 people across the region.

Coupled with earlier snowfall and freezing temperatures, the storm hobbled Raleigh’s solid-waste service, keeping garbage trucks off the road for parts of two weeks.

As the weather cleared, the widespread damage to trees became more obvious. Relatively high temperatures on the night of the snowfall kept the precipitation heavy and wet, according to Chris Hohmann, chief meteorologist for ABC11.

“It was just the weight of that falling snow. It was so heavy – the water density was just so great,” he said. “It stuck to the trees and power lines like glue.”

More than 3,500 calls

In Raleigh, more than 3,500 people called in to request a free collection of storm debris from their properties. As of Tuesday, the city had reached fewer than 200 of those properties, according to City Manager Ruffin Hall.

The city depends on its five “knuckleboom” trucks to pick up the heaviest debris. Battle had hoped to keep the operation limited to city equipment, especially because the storm damage hadn’t qualified for federal disaster funds, he said.

But the flood of calls made that impossible, he said.

Raleigh plans to publish a collection schedule soon, showing which areas crews will hit first. It will appear on the city website early next week, according to staff.

The delayed collection has been a source of some frustration for residents. When the city opened a phone line to schedule collections, several people found that they could not get through to anyone or leave a voice message, they said.

“That’s what’s very aggravating. Call up, no answer, then all of a sudden you get a busy (signal),” said Gladyce Somers, 89.

She was dealing with “a lot of branches,” she said this week. “Nothing has been picked up at all.”

In other towns

Other municipalities also are trying to get rid of their storm debris.

“At this point, our storm collection is winding down,” said Scott Hecht, public works director for the town of Cary. The town hasn’t called in a contractor, he said. Anyone with debris leftover should call the town at 919-469-4090.

The city of Durham completed its last day of free collections Friday. The city collected 102 tons of debris between March 2 and 12, double the normal rate, according to city staff.

It’s not clear what it will cost Raleigh to bring in the reinforcements. The city manager expects to have an estimate once the crews begin work. Raleigh will be paying a “premium for speed,” Hall said.

Meanwhile, even though the last of the winter weather might have passed, the state has already started its severe-weather season, which can bring storms and tornadoes.

“The good news about it being colder than normal in February, and really March, is that it put a lid on severe weather,” Hohmann said.

“That can change really fast.”

Staff writer Jim Wise contributed to this report.

Kenney: 919-829-4870;

Twitter: @KenneyNC

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