Barron’s Peter S. Olson Memorial Park is tucked away in a spot on the east side of South Fifth Street, just across Quaderer’s Creek from the Monroe Manor elderly apartments and assisted living facility.
More than a week after the July 19, 2019 storm hit the city and the rest of Barron County, there were still several large trees down in the park – either broken off by winds that may have reached 90 mph, or uprooted where they stood.
Additional trunks and limbs littered the creek bottom, not just at the park, but for well over a mile along the creek bed as it winds through the city.
On Tuesday, July 30, city street superintendent Dave Hanson was still trying to figure out when – and how – workers could get into Olson Park to remove the debris.
“It’s awfully wet down there,” he said. “We’ll need to be careful.”
Hanson estimated that by Monday evening July 29, his 10-member crew had logged more than 550 hours of work since the storm hit, which doesn’t include more than 200 hours put in by a pair of truck drivers who hauled debris to the city dump and a huge temporary dumping ground just west of Wayside Cemetery (see related story).
Hanson said the city is waiting for information from Barron County on the number of volunteer hours worked and documented in the city Friday and Saturday, July 26-27.
Last week, city officials said that state storm aid would pay for 70 percent of the cost of cleanup, but that the city is responsible for the remaining 30 percent.
The local share of the cost could have been reduced, based on the number of documented volunteer hours worked July 26-27, according to Barron County officials. The same conditions applied to every township, village and city in the county, they added.
Despite the many thousands of hours worked by people throughout the area, the disaster aid is only available if volunteers signed up at the Justice Center July 26 and 27, according to county officials.
The weekend volunteer effort was organized with the assistance of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Registered volunteers documented their time with on-site supervisors.
County officials said that each documented work hour is worth $15 in additional aid to the local government where the cleanup work takes place. Without that credit, local governments must pay their 30 percent share of storm cleanup out of local taxes, officials added.
The organized volunteer effort wrapped up late Saturday evening, July 27. But, according to the Sheriff’s Department Facebook page, “there is still lots of work to do.
“Unfortunately, there were not enough volunteers to complete all the requests for assistance,” the post said.
Mike Judy, director of the Sheriff’s Department Emergency Services office, said about 150 volunteers registered.
“Due to the low number of volunteers over last weekend, I feel another volunteer weekend would see even less (turnout),” he said.
People who wanted help with cleanup were requested to call 211 so that volunteers could be assigned to their property.
“In total, we received 213 cleanup work orders,” Judy said.
Of that total, “187 (work orders were) completed and 26 remained unfilled. These 26 are being separated by their locations and forwarded to their respective township for follow-up.”
Power mainly restored
It took a week for Barron Electric Cooperative to restore power to thousands of customers.
For days, Barron Electric workers (and workers from other rural power cooperatives from Wisconsin and other states) trudged through devastated woods, waded streams and swamps, and disentangled wires from downed trees.
By Monday morning, July 29, the company’s Facebook page announced that, while “the majority of storm restoration has been completed,” there could still be problems.
“Conditions such as saturated grounds and leaning trees remain,” the co-op said. Such conditions could make “additional outages likely,” the post said,
Customers were asked to call (866) 258-8722 to report conditions that might cause more outages.
One such example was reported Wednesday, July 24, to the Barron County Emergency Communications Center.
Someone called 911 from the 2500 block of 5 1/4 Avenue, New Auburn, to report that a tree caught fire when the power was turned back on.
The hard work continues
By press time Tuesday, hundreds of tons of brush, branches, limbs, even entire trees, had been cleaned up in the city of Barron, by a small army consisting of city workers, Barron citizens, their friends, relatives and neighbors.
Elsewhere in southern and western Barron County, chain saws whined as they carved their way through trunks, limbs and branches.
Skid steers lifted, pivoted, and loaded logs onto trucks.
Hundreds of other trucks and trailers traveled to and from village, town and city dumps, sometimes several times a day, as they dropped off storm debris.
National Guard troops worked to clear roads (especially in the Comstock area). And, finally, plain, ordinary human muscles were flexed as thousands of people worked hours in the hot sun.
But there was still more to do. As of today, July 31, there are still many thousands of additional tons of debris on both private and public property, strewn across county all-terrain vehicle trails, and clogging up creek bottoms and woodlands.