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Frank Gray

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Ash trees, garbage up after storms

For at least the past two years the city has been spending lots of money cutting down ash trees that had been killed by the emerald ash borer.

The city concentrated on removing ashes that presented a safety hazard.

But one has to wonder just how dangerous those big dead ash trees are.

We’re told by city officials that in the powerful storms that hit on June 29 and again on July 5, nary an ash tree was blown over.

That is surprising, particularly considering that the bark on plenty of these dead ash trees is slowly pulling away from the trunks. Tapping on these trees is like pounding on a big wooden drum.

The reason the ashes survived, we’re told, is that they had no leaves, so they didn’t capture the raging wind like a sail.

That sounds like a good explanation, but I also noticed that there were some wooden power poles that didn’t have a single leaf on them that were snapped off in the early moments of the storm.

Maybe it’s because ash is just one tough wood. That’s why people make baseball bats and ax handles out of it.

Most of the 500 or so trees that did fall in the city, we’re told, were maples. If you’ve ever listened to an arborist, maples aren’t very popular among landscapers. Their roots work to the surface, fouling lawns and causing sidewalks to heave.

They are also relatively weak, prone to splitting when the branches form a V shape.

It seems when it comes to trees, we just don’t seem to be able to win.

Al Moll, the head of the parks department, said he wouldn’t have minded if a few dead ashes would have come down instead of maples.

Once the dead ash trees are gone, many of them will be replaced with – maples.

The city was winning, though, when it comes to garbage.

When residents were given the big yellow-topped recycling containers, more and more people started to recycle. So many, in fact, that they threw out 6,000 tons less in 2011 than they did in 2010. That saved the city $150,000 in landfill fees and earned the city plenty of money in revenue from selling recyclables, enough to reduce garbage pickup fees.

Then the storm hit, knocking out power to about 80,000 households in the Fort Wayne area, most for several days.

That’s when everything in peoples’ refrigerators and freezers ended up in the garbage. I know my garbage container was so heavy with ruined frozen foods I could barely roll it to the street. I couldn’t help but wonder, how much do 50,000 such garbage containers weigh, and what kind of a financial hit is the city going to take for all that unexpected garbage?

It seems that last week, in the days after the storm, people threw away 800 tons more in garbage than normal. That’s more than 13 percent of the 2010 reduction in trash flow in one week, and it cost an extra $20,000 to put it in the dump.

That’s a lot of garbage, but it doesn’t mean a big financial hit for the city, which spends $2.3 million a year in landfill fees.

The increase in garbage still isn’t over, suggested Frank Suarez, a city spokesman. Next week we’ll probably see another increase as people start throwing out damaged playsets, sheds and other outdoor items.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter (@FrankGrayJG).

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