Auburn cleanup continues after costly storm

The recent storm left tree branches and limbs scattered throughout Isaac Evans Park. Crews continue to clean up after the costly storm. - Mark Klaas/Auburn Reporter
The recent storm left tree branches and limbs scattered throughout Isaac Evans Park. Crews continue to clean up after the costly storm.
— image credit: Mark Klaas/Auburn Reporter

Storm over, mess lingers.

Getting out from under the debris will take time, Auburn Public Works Director Dennis Dowdy said Monday as he briefed City leaders on where things stand with recovery efforts from the storm that started Jan. 17.

"We are still in the accounting mode, trying to come up with how much the storm cost us. But we are beginning to get a good handle on that, and I anticipate that we'll be in recovery for at least one more week, recovering storm debris," Dowdy said.

As of Monday, Dowdy said, City vegetation and street crews had removed 500 cubic yards of storm debris. Residents were taking full advantage of the Dumpsters Waste Management is providing, filling them to date with 221 tons of yard debris, and still counting.

According to Parks Department Director Daryl Faber, the City lost 215 trees of 33 varieties inside City parks. Game Farm Park alone lost 97.

During daylight hours, the City is fielding three debris-gathering chipper teams.

"It really did hit the city hard," Dowdy said. "So in the public works and parks departments, we've got a lot of cleanup and a lot of accounting to do."

Dowdy provided a look inside the effort.

The City was ready for the type of storm the National Weather Service said would be coming that Tuesday night, Dowdy said. Crews had pre-inspected the City's fleet of equipment. They had load tested all of the generator sets that back up the pump stations for water, sewer and storm drainage. Dowdy had five teams out operating day and night — 12 hours on, 12 hours off.

Such was the message Dowdy communicated to calm his anxious boss, Mayor Pete Lewis, then in Washington DC at the National Mayor's Conference, and unable to catch a flight home. About noon Wednesday Dowdy told Lewis again, telling him, "don't worry, everything is under control, Thursday will be all slush, crews will blade it off, and that will be that."

That, anyway, was what the forecasters were saying.

By Thursday morning the sheer scope of ice damage prompted a fresh assessment. Now the question people inside City Hall were asking each other was, "How in the heck do we get out of this mess?"

Dowdy drew up power lists to send to Puget Sound Energy (PSE) so it would know about downed lines that were closing streets and keeping city crews from doing their jobs. He listed all the pump stations and key locations that needed power.

In many cases, Dowdy said, PSE couldn't get in to fix the power lines until somebody sawed through a downed tree.

In the midst of the severe power outages and road closure, the City was trying to run City Hall and several warming shelters, including the one the Auburn Food Bank was providing at Veteran's Memorial Park. He kept at it, sending lists to PSE, and every time PSE crews fixed something, he sent an update."We kept it on their screen," Dowdy said. "And so going into that weekend, unfortunately, we had that low cloud cover, and even though the storm was beginning to melt off, ice damage had really hit everywhere. And everybody could see we had a lot of entities that were out of power. PSE had questions for us, and we had questions for them, and they kept telling us where their priorities were, and how fast they could get to us."

By Monday of last week, Dowdy said, PSE had made "phenomenal progress." Only two traffic signals were still running on a generator. By the next day, only one road was still closed. The City helped PSE locate the downed power lines on West Valley Highway."By the end of the day on Wednesday, we pretty much were there. But it took a full week of recovery," Dowdy said.

Dowdy praised PSE for doing "yeoman's work." He also lauded operations maintenance and operation and parks crews.

"Crews were out there in some of the most dangerous conditions you could possibly go through," Dowdy said. "Opening up access to public buildings is something parks and M&O folks typically take care of while we are sanding and clearing the roads. In both cases, we went through a full week free of accidents and free of any major equipment breakdowns. The mayor was on the East Coast, but he kept the logistics flowing, and he kept in contact with PSE and made a lot of difference as well ...I don't think he slept the whole time."

Mayor Pro-Tem Nancy Backus filled in at City Hall.

"It was a tremendous effort on the part of everyone that was able to make it in to work and at the expense of their own families, who probably didn't have power. They did it with smiles and pride. They were cold, they were tired, but they knew they were doing it for a good cause," Backus said.

"It felt like everybody pulled together and had patience," added Councilwoman Largo Wales.

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