Communities Struggle to Pay for Storm Cleanup

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"Every inch of the 13.5 square miles of this village is covered with limbs and brush," said Gurnee's Jim Hayner. "It's everywhere."

C rews with the village's Department of Public Works arrived on Fuller Road Wednesday afternoon with a massive amount of work to tackle. Tree limbs with girths as wide as car tires littered the roadway and brush was scattered everywhere.

"There was so much brush on it, you could barely drive a truck down it," said Village Forester Jake Balmes.

Six hours later, when quitting time came around for the crew, their job was still not done. There were still trees to haul away, branches to cut up with chain saws, and limbs to stick into their wood chipper.

Work resumed at 9 a.m. Thursday, and it took crews until 5 p.m. to wrap the job on the quarter mile stretch of road.

All over, trees are tangled i n power lines and blocking roads. Residents have piled tree debris waist-high along their curb side.

"It's like eating an elephant. You take it one bite at a time," said Balmes. "We're working block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood."

With 32,000 residents in Gurnee, Balmes projects it could take five weeks to clear the village of all the dead wood and brush.

"That's fine. As long as they take it," said resident Jim Vandervere, who spent four hours cutting and sawing trees Wednesday and another couple hours Thursday removing debris. Whatever residents like Vandervere haul to the curb, Gurnee vows to take it away.

"It's better than paying to have it removed," he said.

It's a cost Gurnee does not have in its budget. Hayner projects a $200,000 clean-up costs, but says the village has no choice other than paying.

"We'll just have to pinch pennies in other areas to make sure things come in balance," he said.

Gurnee hopes to get some measure of reimbursement from Springfield or Washington, D.C.

Lake County's Board Chairman has declared a state of emergency in the wake of the severe storm and ensuing power outage. The proclamation paves the way to receive financial assistance is state or federal aid becomes available.

This is far from an issue that's localized to Gurnee. In fact, this colossal clean-up has turned into a region-wide dilemma.

In Lake Villa, population 8,900, they're borrowing equipment like chippers, trucks, chain saws from other municipalities.

"You don't budget for it. You've got to do what you've got to do to clean it up. Hopefully, we'll get reimbursed," said Public Works Superintendent Glenn McCollum.

In Lindenhurst, population 15,000, Village Manager Matt Formica said the village put out an alert to the Illinois Public Works Mutual Aid Network to try and get assistance from neighboring communities with debris removal.

"It doesn't even look like we've put a dent in it," he said.

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