The city is seeking FEMA assistance to address damage from a June 8 storm.
BY ANGIE SCHMITT
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN — It was clear right away that this was no ordinary thunderstorm.
It ripped through the Mahoning Valley on June 8, leaving a Beaver Township man dead and 80,000 without power.
It hit the local tree population hard.
Fellows Riverside Gardens in Mill Creek Park lost 30 trees, said horticulturist Keith Kaiser.
Youngstown State University lost 60, said President David Sweet.
About 300 have been removed from roads and sidewalks in Youngstown, said Sean McKinney, the city’s buildings and grounds commissioner.
Five weeks later, a clearer picture of the destruction is in place — in part because much of that destruction remains.
It turns out, the damage was far more than anyone anticipated, said Walter Duzzny, director of the county’s Emergency Management and Communications.
And it’s not hard to find.
Unable to afford cleanup
For five weeks, Pearl Underwood, 77, of Rockview Avenue, has looked out over her neighbor’s yard, where six trees were leveled by the storm. Two remain in horizontal positions across the lawn, their root systems threatening the stability of a 20-foot granite retention wall.
At the house next door, her neighbors lost a tree as well. You can still see the damage it left to their roof.
Underwood is frustrated by the eyesore and the potential damage the mess across the street presents to her house.
“I keep up my yard the best I can,” she said. “I have a lot of pride in my home and a lot of money invested in it.”
But her neighbors have seven small boys and can’t afford to pay for the cleanup, she said.
“Somebody called the fire department, but they charged him $500 to burn them,” she said. “Nobody seems to want to help the people.”
The city is in no position to intervene, said the mayor’s chief of staff Jason Whitehead. City crews are still contending with the aftermath of June 8 on public property, he said.
“It is taking much longer to clean up from the storm because of the destruction,” Whitehead said. “We just do not have the manpower — the human resources nor the financial resources — to take care of people’s personal problems.”
Costs and assistance
Youngstown’s street department alone has spent almost $200,000 cleaning up damage. And most of the damage is on private property, Duzzny added.
Duzzny could not generate a new estimate. But he is working with the city on a total figure for its storm-related expenses, including street department expenditures and additional safety services rendered, he said.
If the city can show it spent more than .05 percent of its budget in the storm’s aftermath, it may qualify for federal assistance in the form of a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant, he said.
Duzzny, however, isn’t overly optimistic about the city’s chances.
One of the criterion for assistance requires 25 homes be damaged enough to make them unfit for living. So far, Duzzny said he hasn’t found any.
Furthermore, any federal funds will only go a small way toward offsetting additional money the city has already expended repairing damage from the storm, Whitehead said.
Securing FEMA assistance, however, would allow low-income homeowners to apply for loans for repairs and tree removal, Duzzny said.
Senior citizen areas
Councilman Artis Gillam Sr., D-1st, has taken up the issue on behalf of the elderly and impoverished citizens in his district, spanning parts of the East, South and North sides as well as downtown.
Gillam said he has been meeting with Mayor Jay Williams about the tree problem. The two, however, have not yet arrived at a solution, he said.
“We have some people who can’t afford to take them down,” he said. “It’s a big problem because it’s a senior citizen area.”
Whitehead recommends low-income individuals try contacting lumber companies or tree trimmers, offering their wood in exchange for cleanup services.
That plan won’t work for Davey Tree and Lawn Care on Meridian Road, said Tammy Basista, an office manager. Most wood has no value to tree service companies, she said.
Logging companies only buy wood in large volumes, she said, and hauling it is expensive.
“If we take wood, it costs us more money,” she said.
Tree removal can range from $150 to $4,000, she said. Davey doesn’t have set prices, said Basista, but it offers free estimates. Factors like the tree’s proximity to a home and size greatly influence the size of the job, she said.
Despite the high cost, it is often best to leave tree removal to the experts, he said.
“Homeowners need to be very, very cautious about who’s coming on their property to remove trees,” he said.
In absence of city assistance and without FEMA aid, however, some Youngstown residents are resorting to creative methods to rid their lawns of their broken trees. One Youngstown resident took out an advertisement on Craigslist.org, trying to sell his “50- to 75-foot fallen pine.”
The price? Free with removal.