Hastings sets July 19 deadline for storm cleanup; waits for word on federal aidArea News
-- The City of Hastings and Dakota County are hoping that a Federal Emergency Management Agency review of storm damage here will lead to federal reimbursement for costs associated with cleanup.
By: Katrina Styx - Hastings Star-Gazette, Pierce County Herald
HASTINGS - The City of Hastings and Dakota County are hoping that a Federal Emergency Management Agency review of storm damage here will lead to federal reimbursement for costs associated with cleanup.
FEMA was in the area early last week to survey damage and get estimates on how much the cleanup was costing. In order to get assistance, Dakota County would need to see costs at about $1.3 million. FEMA estimates last week put the costs at about $2.5 million, including both the June 19 storm and a June 14 storm in the southern part of the county.
In Hastings alone, costs were roughly estimated at about $800,000. A large portion of the estimate, however, is from equipment usage (calculated using rental rates the city bills equipment out for) and regular staff hours, said Director of Public Works Tom Montgomery. Without the equipment and regular staff hours, the city is looking at about $150,000 in extra costs by the time cleanup is finished – substantially higher than the city’s budgeted $25,000.
Currently, extra costs are coming out of the city’s $75,000 emergency fund.
“So for now, we’re drawing on that, and our fear is we’re going to burn that up,” Montgomery said.
Staff will continue to use existing reserve funds to pay for the work, he said. If FEMA and President
Obama approve the county’s application for federal disaster funds, much of the extra clean up associated costs would be refunded.
Speeding the process
City staff are already dedicating their time almost entirely to cleanup. In the Public Works and Parks and Recreation departments, virtually all other activities have been suspended until debris is safely removed. Workers are putting in 11- and 12-hour days during the week and eight-hour days on Saturdays. Other city staff members have been helping too, putting in a few extra hours after their regular shifts to pick up brush piles that don’t require special machinery to move.
“There really hasn’t been a department in the city that hasn’t stepped up to the plate,” said City Engineer Nick Egger.
Even so, it would take close to eight weeks for city staff to work through the entire city, “which is a little too long – more than a little too long,” Montgomery said.
The federal aid process is also lengthy. FEMA is looking at 13 counties, Montgomery said. Counties that meet the declaration will be sent on to the governor, who would ask for a disaster declaration from the president. The president has 30 days to respond to the request.
“In the meantime though, we’re not going to sit around and wait 30 days to see if we’ll get things removed,” Montgomery said.
Last week, the city brought on Hoffman and McNamara, a Hastings-based nursery and landscape company, to help with the cleanup. The city also hired Helke Tree Removal’s clam truck to help load city trucks.
According to a report given to the City Council Monday evening, city crews are aiming to have the majority of cleanup work done by Rivertown Days, which begins July 19. In order to meet the deadline, the council approved hiring additional contractors as needed.
At the east end of Spiral Boulevard, the pile of downed trees and branches is steadily growing. Earlier this week, the pile was estimated to contain 15,000 to 20,000 cubic yards of material, according to the report given to the council. Staff guessed the total could grow to 40,000 or 50,000 cubic yards by the time it’s finished. It would take 5,000 of the city’s snow plow dump trucks to total 50,000 cubic yards.
The city is discussing having District Energy St. Paul, a heating and cooling company in St. Paul, manage grinding and removing the brush. If there’s enough material of high enough quality, the company would provide the service at no charge, Egger said.
“We’re awfully close to what we think their thresholds are,” he said.
If the city doesn’t meet Distric Energy’s threshold, however, removal of the pile would be contracted out by the city.
Crews are moving out of the hardest hit areas — from Lyn Way to Brittany Road on either side of 15th Street — and moving on to other areas. Contracted crews will be moving east toward the Hastings Country Club, then to Highway 61. City crews started work south of County Road 47 last weekend and are moving into the area north of Highway 55 and west of Highway 61.
“That’ll take some time yet,” Egger said Monday evening. “We’re going to hit that hard here in the next several days.”
One area the city hasn’t started working in is the Conzemius Park ravine. The ravine is a major drainage area, Egger said, and about 100 trees have fallen there. The city is looking to get a contractor to remove the trees.
“We’re concerned about the conflict there with water flow space,” Egger said.
The average quote for tree removal in the ravine is $15,000.
Residents are encouraged to take caution around remaining brush piles.
“With this warm weather, things will start to dry out,” said Fire and EMS Director Mike Schutt.
Campfires and legal fireworks should be enjoyed with caution, he said, as dry brush could ignite.
An impressive response
City council members praised responders and residents for their quick action and community-minded reaction to the storm damage.
“It was almost like a drill as opposed to the real thing, except we had some real trees causing some damage,” Joe Balsanek said.
Schutt said that 185 buildings within the city were damaged in the storm in some way, and Balsanek noted that it was impressive no one was injured and there were no incidents of looting.
“It speaks so well of our community,” he said