Riversiders who emerged from their homes after a supercell storm blew through the area on June 13 could tell immediately that it wasn’t your garden variety event. Last week, Village Forester Michael Collins and a representative from ComEd gave residents and local officials a clearer picture of the damage the village sustained.
“I think it was really a challenging time for our [public works] department and the entire village,” Collins told elected officials during a report at the Sept. 15 meeting of the village board. “In my 18 years here as the forester I’ve never seen damage at that level.”
Riverside lost 116 trees that had been planted on public property – the losses on private property have not been tallied – and more public trees may still die due to storm damage that required radical pruning of large limbs.
“Most of the storms I’ve seen previously were somewhere around maybe three to five trees and a lot of branch damage, branch failures, but this has surpassed all of those experiences and probably cumulatively exceeded them,” Collins said.
Of the 116 public trees lost as a result of the storm, 70 of them were 21 inches in diameter or larger. One cottonwood tree felled by the winds, which included gusts of up to 95 mph, was 55 inches in diameter.
Another 32 trees between 11 and 20 inches in diameter were lost to the storm.
“The most striking one to me is the 11- to 20-inch size class,” said Collins. “These are all trees that we’ve invested a lot of resources in. Losing 32 of them in one small event, one brief snapshot in time, is pretty significant, because we’re not going to get our return of investment on those trees, all the pruning and all the nurturing we’ve done for those trees.
Losing the larger diameter trees, meanwhile, was a blow to Riverside’s tree canopy.
“Those losses are significant, and we can’t fix them overnight, per se,” Collins said. “We will, of course, do reforestation and planting to offset these losses, but that’s a pretty big hit to our urban forest.”
Beyond the loss of entire trees, hundreds of trees sustained limb damage. Collins said that public works and crews from the village’s third-party vendor D. Ryan Tree and Landscape were called to 671 locations to trim damaged limbs. With Riverside public works staffing at less than a dozen people and without its own aerial truck, D. Ryan handled about 75 percent of the branch failures.
As of Aug. 31, according to a public works report included in the Sept. 15 village board meeting packet, 724 trees had been trimmed year to date, with 684 being trimmed in June and July.
That tree removal and trimming work came at an enormous cost. Invoices paid by the village of Riverside in July, August and September to D. Ryan Tree and Landscaping amounted to $625,000, according to Finance Director Karin Johns.
But the total amount of money the village will end up paying to repair storm-related damage is expected to wind up closer to $750,000, Johns said.
Above and beyond the sum paid to D. Ryan, the village will fork over $30,000 to replace the 90-foot communications tower behind village hall that the storm toppled. In the meantime, the village has paid about $10,000 so far to Verizon to use its cloud to keep all of the village communication lines connected.
Until the new tower is erected, Johns said, the village also won’t know the extent of the damage done to the antennae that were on the old tower, so there may be additional expense related to those.
When the tower fell, it also broke some windows at the township hall and took down a section of copper gutter. The storm also damaged numerous items of village property, including the public works building roof, a couple of fire hydrants and a gas lamp.
As of Sept. 16, the village had incurred total storm-related expenses of $682,000, according to Johns.
Initially, the village’s risk management agency denied the village’s insurance claim to recoup those costs, but earlier this month Johns confirmed that the insurance carrier had reversed its position and is honoring the village’s claim. Riverside will be on the hook for its $50,000 deductible, but otherwise insurance will cover nearly all of the storm-related expense, Johns said.
Collins on Sept. 15 also presented a map pinpointing the locations of tree removals due to storm damage. While spread throughout the village, the largest concentration of tree removals was south of the BNSF railroad tracks, although there was a cluster of removals in the vicinity of the Kent/Longcommon intersection.
Riverside also received 684 hours of mutual aid storm damage cleanup assistance at no cost from a dozen suburban municipalities and the Cook County Department of Transportation.
In June and July, according to reports submitted to Village Manager Jessica Frances from Public Works Director Dan Tabb, public works employees racked up 331 hours of overtime.
Meanwhile, Vito Martino, vice president of operations at ComEd, laid out the impact of the storm on Riverside’s power network. Within the village, he said, there were “62 significant outages” that led to 3,150 Riverside ComEd customers losing power.
About 65 percent of those affected in Riverside had their power restored within 24 hours, Martino said, but some customers – in a hard-hit area along Delaplaine Road between Desplaines Avenue and Northwood Road were without power for 70 hours, or about three days.
Six power poles had to be replaced and several others had to be repaired in that area after trees fell across the lines, said Riverside Public Safety Director Matthew Buckley.
“These power lines weren’t brought down by the winds,” said Buckley. “They were brought down by our trees. And the problem is, once one tree came down and grabbed [the wires] mid-span, it brought down the other poles around it.”