Lake County turns storm damage into free wood chips

  • Strong storms that wreaked havoc in Lake County earlier this summer created a bounty of wood chips as evidenced by this giant pile at Warren Township Highway Department in Gurnee.

      Strong storms that wreaked havoc in Lake County earlier this summer created a bounty of wood chips as evidenced by this giant pile at Warren Township Highway Department in Gurnee. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 8/24/2011 7:01 AM

Strong storms that ripped through Lake County earlier this summer created a byproduct that remains piled high in various locales, free for the taking.

Anyone needing landscape enhancement has had a windfall of choices, so to speak, as downed trees, limbs and brush has been ground and chopped into little mountains of wood chips.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Usually, we have a waiting list but now, it's turned around -- we have an excess," Lake Villa Township Supervisor Dan Venturi said. "We have lots of wood chips to share."

Many townships and other government entities routinely make chips available to residents, but this summer of storms has produced a bumper crop of debris.

"Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Pull your truck up and start loading," said Pat Muetz, assistant village administrator in Gurnee, which was one of the hardest hit areas during the July 11 storm barrage.

Though destructive, that storm didn't meet the threshold for expenses incurred by various government entities to qualify for federal reimbursement.

The estimate of expenses for manpower, equipment and other costs from about 50 entities, topped $3.5 million by Aug. 3, according to Kent McKenzie, Lake County's emergency management coordinator.

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Unlike other catastrophic incidents, such as the February blizzard, the overall affected geographic area was relatively narrow. McKenzie said the Lake County governments would have to have incurred $16 million in expenses to be eligible for federal reimbursement.

Of those entities that reported expenses, Gurnee was by far the most affected with more than $650,000 from the July 11 storm.

Muetz said early estimates showed as many as 400 village-owned parkway trees would have to be removed because of damage, and another 1,000 may need to be trimmed. Crews still are assessing the village's inventory of about 10,000 parkway trees.

"There is just a ton of wood chips out there and there's going to be more," Muetz said.

The Warren Township Road District also regularly makes chips available to residents.

"We've got a lot more now," reported Highway Commissioner Gerald Rudd. "We had a fantastic amount (of trees) down and a fantastic amount of chips. We worked pretty much a month solid."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

At one point, the grinder at the shop couldn't keep pace and a bigger model was imported as other entities also brought in debris, Rudd added.

In other cases, resourceful landscape companies have been making the rounds.

"We had a company that said, `We'll take your wood chips if you don't mind loading,' them," said Libertyville Public Works Director John Heinz. The village has limited space to store chips, he added.

Meanwhile, portions of the 4,160-acre Adeline Jay Geo-Karis Illinois Beach State Park near Zion will remain closed until at least Sept. 9 due to severe damage from two storms in June.

"I know there were thousands of trees affected. We're working on a damage estimate and a work estimate we need to provide to the folks who have the manpower and equipment," to clear the debris, said Chris McCloud, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Venturi said his township's costs probably will exceed $250,000. While finances are in good shape, some road projects likely will be delayed to cover those costs, he added.

"Hopefully, we won't get hit with snow," Venturi said.