Tree cleanup is latest headache for storm-weary residents

January 23, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

NEW — 8:15 p.m. Jan. 23, 2012

Fallen tree branches, scattered across the landscape like so many broken Lincoln Logs, continue to bedevil road crews and residents days after a major snowstorm and crippling ice storm rolled across Western Washington.

The task to clean up downed trees posed a challenge as the region faced a long power outage and difficult road conditions.

“From a tree damage standpoint, this has been very high,” city Arborist Alan Haywood said Jan. 23. “It’s not as catastrophic as the big windstorms we’ve had, because we did not have many real large trees come down and come down on houses and do that kind of damage.”

Downed trees on roadways prompted closures on city, county and state roads in Issaquah and nearby areas. Some homeowners reported damage from falling branches.

“It could have been far worse,” Haywood said. “We weren’t getting the 100-foot-tall, big conifers come down.” Instead, “we were getting big pieces of multitrunked” deciduous trees.

The garbage haulers in Issaquah and surrounding communities, Allied Waste and Waste Management, accept tree debris, but ask customers to follow disposal rules.

Local officials could open a drop-off site sometime in the future, but Bret Heath, city Public Works Operations and emergency management director, said decisions about drop-off sites could hinge on a presidential disaster declaration. Such a decision means local governments could apply for reimbursements for emergency response and cleanup activities.

What to know

Residents searching for ways to dispose of fallen tree debris face a handful of options.

The garbage haulers in the Issaquah area, Allied Waste and Waste Management, offer yard waste pickup. Find rules for yard waste disposal at the haulers’ websites, www.rabanco.com and www.wmnorthwest.com.

Residents can drop off tree branches and other organic material for free at city of Sammamish drop-off sites. The sites open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Jan. 28-29 near the ball fields at Beaver Lake Park and East Lake Sammamish Park.

The county Solid Waste Division offers the What do I do with…? website, http://your.kingcounty.gov/ solidwaste/wdidw, to answer questions about how to dispose of fallen tree branches and other yard debris.

Haywood said the city Heritage Trees appeared to escape significant damage in the recent storms. Citywide, about 20 trees carry the designation.

The trees include the giant sequoia at Tibbetts Valley Park, the Empress Tree at Cornick Park and the Oregon white oak at the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery.

The city developed the Heritage Tree Program to identify and recognize trees meant to reflect the character of Issaquah. Every Heritage Tree is identified and recorded in a register maintained by the city Parks & Recreation Department.

Haywood said residents facing tree damage should assess damage to trees and decide whether removal is necessary.

“Folks should not jump to conclusions, that just because their tree has been damaged means that it has to go,” he said. “If they have questions in their mind on it’s worth saving, getting an educated opinion is definitely worthwhile.”

Sometimes, even a damaged-but-otherwise-healthy tree needs to go.

“If it’s a tree that is a focal point or an important thing in a park, and it’s busted off and it looks terrible, even though it might recover, we’re better off just getting rid of it,” Haywood said. “It’s going to be an ugly thing in the park for years until it puts on a lot more growth.”

If homeowners decide to keep a damaged tree, some options exist for repair and restoration, though such tasks require patience.

“If you do determine it’s worth saving, then you can take one of two approaches,” Haywood said. “You can either just leave it alone and see how it re-grows in the spring. Or, you can take the more proactive approach and say, ‘Well, if the top has broken off or a major branch has broken off, I’m going to prune the branch all the way back to the trunk or I’m going to prune it back to where there’s a side branch to take over.’”

Ultimately, the decision — rooted in aesthetics and safety — is left to the homeowner.

“How bad is it? If the tree is too bad then you just get rid of it — and ‘too bad’ is kind of a judgment based on both the condition and appearance,” Haywood said. “It depends on the site and how the tree works in that site.”

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