Post Storm Township-Wide Cleanup Continues

By Joe Scavuzzo, Director, Department of Public Works

Fortunately, the quick, powerful and destructive storm of June 23 was not one that our town witnesses on a regular basis. From power lines arcing against and setting trees on fire in Collins Tract, to sidewalks being uprooted all over town, the Pennsauken Department of Public Works has been working all over town to deal with the storm’s aftermath.

To my knowledge, there were no serious injuries or fatalities in Pennsauken as a result of the storm – for that we can be grateful. There is a saying: “Things can be replaced, not people.” This also applies to the personal safety for the staff of the Department of Public Works. A portion of our 22-man crew was called-in as the storm lessened and the phone calls for assistance grew. This group worked a full day of work, beginning at 7:00 a.m.; then came in for another several hours until midnight. Aside from being a long day to be awake, labor studies show that physical labor after 10 hours is when most accidents occur due to fatigue and lack of focus. That, combined with potentially energized power lines lying on the ground in and around tree debris, can make for a disaster waiting to happen. The entire crew stayed on for another two hours the following day for additional cleanup to clear streets and alleyways for emergency vehicles, much like our snow removal operations. There are times when the reason our efforts “take so long” is because they simply need to. We appreciate your continued patience.

While driving around the day after the storm, the Superintendent of Public Works and I commented that a large portion of debris was out of the normal scope for “bundling and stacking” of our regularly scheduled Wednesday yard waste pickup that is handled by Waste Management. During a large portion of Pennsauken’s storm clean up, our staff has taken pretty much anything our residents have dragged to the curb or that Mother Nature placed there for us.

As of the publishing of this article, Public Works should have hit each neighborhood of Pennsauken for the large debris pickup that could pose a safety concern. To help speed up the process, we ask that all small branches, less than three inches in diameter, be bundled with twine or placed in trash cans – not recycling buckets – and placed at the curb each Wednesday for Waste Management to pick up. We anticipate tree trunks that were cut up by residents and private contractors to be stacked at the curb waiting for Public Works to come by. Public Works picks up limbs and trunks that are greater than three inches in diameter and cut in four-foot lengths on a daily basis. Just call and leave your address and phone number at (856) 663-0178. These are retrieved by a front loader and carried to a recycling center.

We are also asking for the assistance of you who are neighbors to our disabled and senior residents to provide them with help clearing their properties. As many of you that call in to Public Works know, we do not have a secretary to answer the typical 350 plus phone calls our department receives each month. I want to assure you all that we review and document each call-in and investigate each inquiry as soon as we can.

Aside from the trees that have removed siding, gutters and downspouts from homes and businesses, we have a number of trees that are hazardous because they haven’t fallen yet. There are some that are leaning almost at a 45 degree angle from where they should be and also ones that are on our curb line tree removal list that are dead.

And about that list: the Township, as a courtesy, will remove curb line trees if they meet certain criteria. These trees must be either at least 60 percent dead; present an eminent safety hazard; or be the cause of at least three documented sewer blockages. If a tree meets any of these criteria, it would meet the requirements for removal.

The tree removal process begins with a call to the Public Works Department and a request to have the tree inspected. We will send someone to inspect the tree to determine if it meets one of the above criteria. Once that is determined, the homeowner will be given a form to sign, giving the Township permission to remove the tree. By signing this form, the homeowner also agrees to repair any damage done to the sidewalk and curb by the tree and to have the stump removed within 90 days. We then forward a list of the trees which are removed to the Code Enforcement Department, so that they can follow up on these two stipulations.

Since the curb line trees are the homeowner’s responsibility, they may at any time have them removed by a private tree service. If you choose to use a private service, you should make certain that they have both liability and workers compensation insurance. The company must also be licensed to work in Pennsauken. If you use a private tree removal service, it is their responsibility to remove all of tree waste.

As for the curb line trees that are entangled or resting on energized power lines, PSE&G’s trained tree contractors are required to work on these first. As long as there are energized wires, Public Works cannot work on their removal – it’s a safety issue for our workers. This can be frustrating for residents who are waiting for these to be removed. As soon as the PSE&G crews become available, we will join efforts in taking down these hazardous trees to avoid any further damage.

Your continued patience and assistance by bundling small branches is greatly appreciated. I have come to appreciate when our residents call-in to inform us of the state of a particular part of town. Pennsauken is 12 square miles of industrial parks, commercial settings and residential neighborhoods, with over 30 parks, playgrounds and athletic fields. There is not enough time in the week to see all of town; we have come to rely on those that call in to point us in the right direction.

Working together, we can complete the cleanup efforts from these serious storms and get back to enjoying the warm, summer weather.

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