Two weeks ago Sunday, the Douglas County Public Works Department knew some snow was coming and thought crews were prepared with snow plows and other equipment. But there was no way they could have predicted the “snowmageddon” that was about to occur.
“What we didn’t know was with that snow was going to come down so many trees that it was going to be unfathomable. It crippled our system by 10 p.m.,” Douglas County Public Works Director Scott Adams said.
Adams gave a preliminary report Wednesday to the Douglas County Board of Commissioners on the efforts that followed the storm as at least 137 crew members, including 49 public works employees and additional contractors, worked to clear the roads so county residents could get in and out and power company crews could reach downed lines.
Adams said they cut trees, helped people get home, and even removed power lines from semi-trucks after the storm hit.
“Our crews were out the first three days pretty much nonstop with hardly any sleep,” he said.
By Wednesday, they still weren’t able to get to Elkton, with state highways remaining blocked. The Oregon Department of Transportation had Highway 38 open Thursday. By Friday most roads had at least one lane open and by Saturday, 95 percent of the roads were open across the county, Adams said.
There’s still a lot of debris all over the county, and Adams said public works crews will be picking that up for another month or two.
So far, it’s taken in 540 tons of wood debris to transfer stations and more than 1,000 tons to the landfill. (On a related note, Dori John of Roseburg Disposal said the company collected 87.15 tons of tree materials deposited in its tree boxes in the first week after the storm.)
Adams expressed pride in the crews and contractors who jumped in and got to work. He also thanked the public for its support. He said county residents brought the crews breakfasts and dropped off doughnuts and pizzas at their houses, knowing they wouldn’t get home at mealtimes.
Commissioner Tim Freeman said a full briefing with other county departments and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office will be held at a later time. He said the cleanup effort involved “a huge response by a lot of different people.”
He said he saw regular citizens helping each other out everywhere he went, and he complimented Commissioner Chris Boice, who he said helped everyone he could, even driving people in his Jeep to places they needed to go such as radio towers.
Boice said many decisions had to be made “on the fly,” and moved to delegate authority to Freeman to sign after-the-fact contracts for teams that helped with storm response. It was unanimously approved.
Boice said everyone needs to recognize deficiencies in their ability to handle prolonged periods without access to power, so they can be better prepared next time. That will lessen the burden on everyone, he said.
“If more people can be more self-sufficient during that time, it’s less people that we need to try to get out there and help,” he said.
He also cautioned drivers to continue to watch for fallen tree limbs. He said on a return trip from Elkton on Tuesday he had to stop to pull two large chunks of tree that fell on the highway. They hadn’t been there when he drove to Elkton, he said.