It was a trying week for the City of Grand Island work crews cleaning up the damage after last Wednesday’s vicious thunderstorm. The storm caused millions of dollars in damage, and destroyed an estimated 10% of the community’s urban forest.

According to Jeff Wattier, city landfill superintendent, a well-coordinated disaster recovery effort by city officials and crews, as well as Grand Island citizens, helped make the challenging cleanup run as efficiently as possible.

Around 3 a.m. on Wednesday a thunderstorm swept through the community and Hall County with winds that peaked at 87 mph and left nearly two inches of rain.

Not only were city and county cleanup crews out immediately after the storm, cleaning up streets littered with storm debris, but area residents were also cleaning their property of debris.

“It was a huge help for us when the public works department decided to open up the alternative dump sites that allowed people to go to multiple locations,” Wattier said.

He said the alternative dump sites were also a big help for the citizens as they didn’t have to wait in a long line to bring their debris to the city yard waste site.

“Things like this just happen, and they sneak up on you,” Wattier said. “On Wednesday, everybody started hauling their debris to us. We had a line about one and a quarter-mile long from our property all the way to Engleman Road. That is why it was so critical for the city to open up these alternative sites. That was what helped save us. We haven’t seen anything like this before.”

More than a decade ago, Grand Island was hit by a year’s end ice storm that brought down many trees, branches and limbs in the city. At that time, city crews picked up storm debris from curbsides instead of centralized collection points.

“It took them two to three months for them to get everything picked up,” Wattier said.

The City of Grand Island announced Monday that all alternate tree disposal sites are closed. The city will be soliciting bids for chipping at each site, and no further disposal will be allowed at the sites going forward.

The Grand Island Police Department will monitor these sites with notice of closure posted and violators subject to trespassing.

Before the collection points were opened, Wattier said that on Wednesday, following the storm, “We saw almost 800 people come through our yard waste gate, and almost 2,200 cubic yards of tree waste disposed of.”

That was just the day after the storm, and the collection is continuing. City park officials had Stolley Park opened by Sunday for the community art show. But on the way to the park, going east on Stolley Park Road, drivers could see the trees damaged at the city cemetery.

To dispose of the tremendous volume of tree debris, Wattier said they are burning as much of it as they can to reduce the volume.

The yard waste site is adjacent to the waste transfer station on Old Potash Road, west of Grand Island.

“Luckily, we aren’t getting full,” Wattier said. “Because of all the wet weather we have had, it has allowed us to burn the waste debris. Most of everything that came out to us last week after the storm, we have been able to burn up with a permit from the fire department. Everybody is tired of the rain, but for burning conditions, it has been perfect for it.”

He also said, “I don’t think there is going to be any shortage of firewood for residents this year.”

It was also the excessive rains that played a part in so many trees being damaged by the storm. Grand Island has received nearly 5 inches of rain this month, including .50 of an inch from thunderstorms that came through the area early Monday. Other area rainfall amounts Monday include Aurora, 2.27 inches; Osceola, 1.18 inches; St. Paul, 1.86 inches. Since last Wednesday’s morning devastating thunderstorm, Grand Island has received more than 3.30 inches of precipitation.

With nearly 30 inches of precipitation already this year, Grand Island is dealing with saturated soil and high groundwater tables. That has softened the root systems of many trees, causing them to be more vulnerable to strong winds.

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