Trimming damaged trees is Winnipeg city hall’s focus, while the tidying of boulevards and public parks likely won’t begin for another three weeks — the next phase in a storm clean-up effort expected to last a year.
About 10 per cent of publicly-owned trees suffered damage in the Oct. 10-12 storm that brought 34 centimetres of snow to Winnipeg. The combination of trees that had yet to shed their leaves and wet snow that weighed them down is to blame for the widespread damage.
"There is an overwhelming amount of brush on the boulevards," city forester Martha Barwinsky said Thursday, during a media briefing on a street lined with dead tree limbs in South River Heights.
"We are asking residents to help us with the debris by going to the 4R depots, going to Brady (landfill) to drop off brush, put their material out for yard-waste collection, and help each other out."
She said crews have cleared high-risk trees from regional and collector streets, as well as school zones.
Mayor Brian Bowman said the unknown cost of the clean-up is not delaying the effort, adding city hall is treating it as any major snowstorm — whatever resources are required will be deployed.
The all-hands-on-deck response includes 100 city forestry employees, more than 30 crews from the public works department, nine private-industry contractors (one from Alberta), and approximately 15 crews from Regina, Saskatoon and Calgary.
"The urgency, the time sensitivity is not lost on anyone. The winter freeze is coming," Bowman told reporters. "If you’ve got trees, branches (on boulevards), there are risks to pedestrian safety. The snow can’t be cleared around intersections, from schools. It is an enormous challenge that we have as a community."
Bowman said he has no doubts the Manitoba government will provide disaster financial assistance, adding, however, city hall needs to know if such funds can be used to assist homeowners clear debris from their yards.
By Thursday afternoon, Manitoba Hydro had restored power to 97 per cent of the 266,234 sites that experienced outages due to the storm.
Hydro spokesman Bruce Owen said crews are now moving into tough terrain in the Interlake area — where most of the 6,300 remaining outages are located — and around Arborg, Dauphin and Portage la Prairie. Power should be fully restored across the province within a week, Owen said.
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"It’s tiring, particularly for the people on the front lines," he said, adding Hydro is ensuring its field workers are well-rested, fed and properly supplied.
Meanwhile, the residents of at least one evacuated community, Fisher River Cree Nation, have begun to return home.
Red Cross spokesman Jason Small said the organization has registered 6,000 evacuees. He said Thursday "most" people are still displaced for the time being, but did not provide specifics.
"We’re supporting return-homes, but it’s up to the First Nations to determine who and when," Small said.
Maggie Macintosh Reporter
Maggie is a cub reporter who covers every beat in the newsroom. She appreciates alliteration, when newspaper ink stains her fingertips and, more importantly, tips on social and environmental equity issues.
Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.
— If a tree is in contact with a power line, call 911 immediately.
— Exercise extreme caution around fallen trees and branches anywhere in the city.
— On public property:
If a tree is blocking a public road or sidewalk, call 311;
If a tree has fallen in another public area, contact 311 online.
— On private property:
Property owners are responsible for clearing debris on their property;
Do not leave fallen trees or branches on the public boulevard.
— Bring debris to the Brady Road facility or one of the 4R Winnipeg depots to dispose of it free of charge during operating hours.
— source: City of Winnipeg
City extends depot hours for post-storm clean-up
The 4R Winnipeg Depots will be open between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. until Sunday.
As of Friday, the Summit Road Landfill (accessible from Sturgeon Road) will also be open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and weekends from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Brady Road facility remains open to the public during regular hours.
Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said while there is some consideration of using the Christmas tree depot locations for homeowner debris drop-offs, there is concern setting those up would result in the spread of tree diseases.
“We’re taking a look at the best advice we can get from the public service as it becomes available, and we shouldn’t be ruling anything out,” Bowman said. “They’re doing their best with the resources they have to explore some of these options.”
Residents are being reminded elm wood cannot be stored for any purpose, due to the threat of the elm bark beetle and Dutch elm disease.
As well, the City of Winnipeg is asking residents to dispose of ash trees at city depots. Ash wood cannot be transported outside city limits due to concerns about the spread of the invasive emerald ash borer.