Trees toppled, damaged in storms leave behind big bills

Ursula Watson and Mike Martindale
The Detroit News
  • Owner of tree service says it’s ‘worst continued storm damage’ he’s ever seen
  • Many homeowners have to deal with not just clearing trees, but fixing damage they caused
  • Municipalities see a bottom line impact due to overtime to pick up debris

This past weekend’s tornado in Rochester Hills has created a recurring headache for homeowners and municipalities alike this summer: Clearing downed trees.

That has put a pinch on family and city budgets as the Metro area has been lashed with numerous wild storms this summer that uprooted trees, damaged roads and flooded basements.

Robert Moore had to get rid of a massive old oak that dropped two large branches the size of small trees, damaging his fence, during a recent storm with wind gusts of more than 75 mph.

“I am retired. I am living on a combination of pension and Social Security,” said Moore, 64, of Livonia. “It was north of $3,000 and I haven’t got the fence repaired yet so I am probably looking at another few hundred. I could have gone to $7,000 if I had taken the top bidder. ”

Moore went with Ashton Tree & Landscape Service in Livonia, whose owner Ken Scicluna said business “has really crazy, really busy.”

“For three weeks straight, we’ve been working on storm damage and we are a still not caught up from the storm that was two or three weeks ago,” Scicluna said.

Scicluna said his staff of 13 has taken trees off homes, cars and fences and removed one that uprooted a driveway. Depending on tree size and location, and what’s needed to clear the site, homeowners could pay from $1,500 to $8,000, he said.

“This is the worst continued storm damage that we’ve had in 26 years,” he said. “And we’ve been in business for 26 years.”

For municipalities, clearing fallen trees is putting a strain on budgets, but it might be too early to tell how much, officials said.

Overtime crunches budgets

Warren Mayor James Fouts said there were up to 100 fallen trees in the city.

“We have removed trees from driveways and from streets,” Fouts said. “We have a lot of damage from three major storms this summer, which is unheard of.”

He said the city’s budget is “holding up,” but facing some stresses.

“We are chewing up the fund balance but that is why we have a fund balance,” he said. “We have already gone through $300,000 in overtime. Overtime is over the top.”

Overtime is a big issue for Wayne County, too.

“We’ve been out dealing with emergency situations, particularity with trees down over roads,” said Terry Spryszak, Wayne County director of public services & environment. “Our crews have been out working a lot of overtime, clearing trees and limbs from roads.”

Spryszak said he won’t know how much the storms have cost the county until the end of the month, when accounts are reconciled. He also did not know how many downed trees his department has handled.

“Over the last five years at least, we have put ourselves in a decent financial position so we have enough resources to handle these contingencies,” Spryszak said. “We have managed pretty prudently over the last five years and we have been able to build up some reserves but we are tapping into those reserves.”

Some newer upscale Oakland County communities such as Novi and Rochester Hills reported they weathered the storms without any major or significant damage.

In some older communities, like Berkley and Royal Oak, there were dozens of service calls but “nothing too abnormal.”

Greg Rassell, director of recreation and public services in Royal Oak, said, “It’s early in the fiscal year so it’s difficult to say how our budget might be impacted.

“Was it catastrophic? No, but you can always expect trees to drop during storms.”

Damage varies widely

In Berkley, director of public services Derrick Schueller said early September storms did not do any significant damage.

“We had about two dozen limbs down in some locations that required some (public works) overtime,” Schueller said. “We probably had more damage in some past years.”

The bucolic Clarkston had its three-man public works department clearing tree debris and dealing with about six city-owned trees including oaks, sugar maples and at least one 90-foot tall cottonwood.

“I can’t really estimate costs yet and we haven’t even talked about (tree) replacement,” said Jason Miller, department supervisor. “I’ve told our city officials that it is going to affect my budget at some point, particularly if we have a hard winter that some are predicting. But there is no way to tell for certain.”

Craig Bryson, spokesman with the Road Commission for Oakland County, said this year’s tree storm damage is the lowest in the past three years. Still, the road commission has spent about $20,000 on tree removal since July, much of it due to storm damage.

“In terms of staff manpower dedicated to tree removal we’re under two-thirds of where we were last year and about half of what we were two years ago,” Bryson said.

The City of Dearborn has had to pay nearly $45,000 for tree removal and cleanup this month.

Mary Laundroche, the city’s director of the Department of Public Information, said city workers accrued about $24,000 in overtime and a contractor was hired to help clear debris at a cost of about $20,000.