By Doug Hallett
While city hall officials ponder seeking help with the cost of cleaning up tree damage from the recent ice storm, workers have entered a new phase of the cleanup by venturing into the city’s parks.
After taking advantage of thaw conditions on the weekend to “do a blitz” of tree-branch retrieval on boulevards and by the roads, workers have started an estimated four weeks of work in parks, said the city’s fleet manager and also acting manager of roads Bill Barr. Set to begin yesterday, this phase is expected to take until about Feb. 7 to finish. The work involves clearing fallen trees, clearing trails and high-traffic park areas, and neutralizing other tree hazards in parks, said Barr.
It’s anticipated that storm recovery and cleanup efforts in Guelph, which the city is doing in phases, will continue for eight more weeks.
The weekend blitz was designed to take advantage of thaw conditions to pull branches out of snow banks before cold weather freezes them in place, Barr said.
The city planned to have a total of 12 of its employees working in four cleanup crews over the weekend, with a fifth crew of contracted outside workers also part of the blitz. “I don’t have any estimate (of the cost of the cleanup) at this point,” Barr said in an interview Friday. “We are very much in operational mode.”
Al Horsman, the city’s chief financial officer, said Friday that the full cost of cleaning up after the ice storm that hit before Christmas won’t likely be known for a couple of weeks.
City hall is looking at possibilities for seeking compensation from other levels of government to help with these costs, Horsman said in an email sent in response to a Tribune query.
“While the city is aware that some municipalities have given consideration to a unified or – in the case of Toronto – individual request of the provincial and federal government for assistance, these efforts have not yet been formalized,” he said.
City hall staff are discussing with contacts in other municipalities how a unified approach might happen, he said.
In the meantime, city staff have discussed with officials at the Ministry of Municipal Affairs possible funding opportunities under the Ontario Disaster Relief Assistance Program (ODRAP), he said.
This fund is believed to be about $1 million to $3 million annually and is “generally allocated based on greatest need as assessed by the province, so it is expected that there is limited opportunity here,” Horsman said. He noted that Toronto alone is said to be seeking a total of $106 million for the ice storm and last July’s severe flooding combined.
“Staff nonetheless continue to talk with the ministry about (the relief assistance program) and consult with our municipal partners and associations on other reimbursement opportunities,” he said.
The city is asking for residents’ patience as the cleanup continues, and it also says there are ways people can help. These include reporting tree hazards to email@example.com, helping to keep fire hydrants clear of snow and helping to keep storm drains clear, said a city hall news release late Friday.
Residents are being asked to avoid treed areas in parks and trails, and to bring fallen branches and trees from private properties to the Waste Resource Innovation Centre on Dunlop Drive for free disposal. They are also being asked to be cautious around waterways and ponds.
“Many thanks to the City of Guelph and Guelph Hydro staff for working diligently to deal with the aftermath of these two storms,” Mayor Karen Farbridge said in the release.
“Stay safe and continue to be patient as city crews address icy roadways and sidewalks and downed trees.”
By Doug Hallett