Cleanup from storms could last for weeks in Issaquah

January 31, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Terry Hillier, a Capella Drive Northwest resident, unloads branches from his station wagon Jan. 28 at Tibbetts Valley Park. By Greg Farrar

In the days after snow and ice hobbled Issaquah and the region, crews deployed across the city to collect sand from streets and downed trees from neighborhoods.

The recovery effort lurched into gear before snow and ice melted, but city residents and officials continue a daunting task to clean up from the recent storms and prepare for possible conditions in the months ahead.

Bret Heath, city Public Works Operations and emergency management director, said crews continue to focus on sand removal and debris cleanup.

Both activities could last for several more weeks, but “that’s given that we don’t have any more storms,” Heath said. “Any other storms will set those schedules back.”

What to know

Puget Sound Energy customers left without power for at least five days due to recent winter weather can receive a $50 credit from the utility on future electric bills.

The credit is expected to start appearing on customers’ bills Feb. 15. The credit is paid by PSE owners and the financial burden does not fall on PSE customers.

Bellevue-based PSE implemented the 120-consecutive-hour power outage service guarantee in 2008.

Customers affected by a power loss of 120 consecutive hours or more during the recent storms should see the $50 credit on the next PSE electric bill after Feb. 15. If the credit does not appear, call PSE at 1-888-225-5773 toll free.

The city hosted a debris drop-off event at Tibbetts Valley Park on Jan. 28-29 for residents to dump downed tree limbs and other detritus. Community Emergency Response Team members and city staffers helped residents unload debris into garbage bins.

The effort attracted 610 people — more than 350 opening day and more than 200 the next day — and collected about 500 cubic yards of debris. (The city last opened a debris drop-off center after the January 2009 flood.)

“It’s helpful for us to see the kind of response to something like this ice and snow event, because it helps us plan for larger emergencies when it comes to debris removal,” said Communications Coordinator Autumn Monahan, the city official responsible for disseminating information to the public during snowstorms and other emergencies.

Crews laid down about 1,000 tons of sand on city streets during a snowstorm and subsequent ice storm in late January.

Teams continue to sweep and collect the sand. Then, crews screen debris from the grit and use the sand again if road conditions deteriorate or for sandbags if local creeks rise. The process also requires teams to clean sand from storm drains.

“The sand off of the main arterials is fairly clean, and we’re able to pick it up and reuse it, but we’re finding a lot of fir boughs and needles and stuff that is really difficult to screen mixed in what we’re picking up off the side streets,” Heath said. “Unfortunately, we won’t be able to recycle it.”

Crews applied sand and sprayed de-icing fluid — calcium chloride and a modifier meant to reduce corrosion — to city streets.

“We use it on all of the sand, because it helps melt the snow and the ice on the road, and makes it easier to break up so we can plow easier,” Heath said.

Power returned to grateful residents in recent days, after the harsh conditions caused widespread outages.

Crews restored power to Issaquah and surrounding communities Jan. 25, almost a week after snow, ice and wind damaged transmission lines. Puget Sound Energy said restoration work has ended for Issaquah, plus Hobart, Mirrormont and Preston in the Issaquah area — unincorporated communities hit hard in a snowstorm and a rare ice storm last week.

The snowstorm caused minor headaches compared to the subsequent ice storm, as more than 18,000 customers in the Issaquah area and more than 200,000 customers in Western Washington lost power.

Strong winds late Jan. 24 caused additional damage and outages for 38,000 customers across Western Washington. Crews managed to repair most wind-related outages throughout the night and restore power for 28,000 customers within hours.

Bellevue-based PSE offered customers left without power for at least five days a $50 credit.

“Our customers were frustrated by the lengthy outages, of course, but they also were very understanding of the difficult conditions our crews faced in getting their lights back on as soon as it was safe to do so,” Sue McLain, senior vice president of Delivery Operations, said in a statement. “We thank them for their patience and want to ensure their continued confidence in PSE by providing them the credit without their having to request or apply for it.”

The focus remained on the power outage for days, even as residents confronted debris in yards and along streets.

“Some rural residents in areas with more trees suffered significant hardships in the aftermath of last week’s severe winter storms,” Councilwoman Kathy Lambert, Issaquah’s representative, said in a statement.

Officials urged residents to prepare for more strong winter weather in the months ahead.

“In the aftermath of a major storm, it is important that King County work with citizens who are doing their part to recover,” Issaquah-area Councilman Reagan Dunn said.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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