City officials evaluate post storm clean-up

Nick Stroman

With a number of damaging rainstorms occurring in the last several weeks, city crews in Washington have been took on enormous cleanup issues of downed trees, backed-up sewer drains, flooded basements and leftover debris.

City administrator Bob Morris said the storm aftermath has sparked a discussion among Washington officials about what city crews should be responsible for in the wake of unpredictable weather.

On Aug. 5, a severe storm ripped through Central Illinois, throwing downed limbs and debris on city streets and yards.

Washington city officials assessed the extent of the damage and scheduled a citywide tree debris curbside pick-up for Aug. 8.

“It was expected to only take that one day, but some people took advantage of the situation,” Morris said.

Morris said some homeowners took hedges, brush, dead shrubs and entire trees out to the curb.

“We already provide brush collection twice a year,” Morris added.

From Aug. 8 through Aug. 11, it took crews more than 200 hours to clean up the city, including 40 overtime hours.

More than 80 dump trucks, 80 pickup trucks and 30 backhoes were used.

Total cost of manpower and equipment was $13,000.

“This was too much extra work for us, so we had to come up with a way to tell residents we can’t pick up entire trees ever again,” Morris said.

Morris presented Washington’s committee of the whole with three options for private disposal of landscape waste immediately following a severe and extensive storm.

The option chosen was to limit the pickup and disposal service to downed tree limbs and branches only.

If tree pruning and/or removal is required, it will remain the private property owner’s responsibility.

“But we want to emphasize, we only activate it when the city crews and staff have evaluated it to be a significant storm with significant damages,” Morris added.


While the Aug. 5 storm mainly consisted of high winds and tree damage, the storms during the weekend of Sept. 12 brought with them heavy record-breaking rains.

Morris said throughout the three days of heavy rain, there was flooding throughout the city varying degrees.

The underground sanitary and storm sewer systems were also flooded, and storm inlets were clogged with water and debris.

“However, the problem with rains of that magnitude is we can’t really do anything about the flood issues until it stops raining and drains down,” Morris said.

“That meant late Sunday morning for our crews. But the wastewater plant was still taking in volumes of water up until Tuesday,” he added.

Morris said the police department responded to calls about street flooding and basement backups and the street supervisor was spot-checking creeks, bridges and bridge decks Sunday.

“Some of those spots can only take on so much water, so we have to keep an eye out every time there is some heavy precipitation,” he added.

Morris said one positive note during that rainstorm was the success of the stormwater retention basin in preventing flooding and erosion.

“It helped a great deal in minimizing damage, but it didn’t solve all of our problems of course,” Morris said.

The administrator said there is not much the crews can do to prepare beforehand for the heavy storms, mainly due to their unpredictable nature, but also because of lack of city finances.

“No city can afford to build a big enough system to take on every possibility of a heavy weather or nature event, so we just identify the problems and do the best we can,” Morris said.