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Ice storm post-mortem: One month later

Severe storm’s scars steadfast

Although January’s winter storm began its icy attack on Lane County just over a month ago, its presence lingers, and the destruction this natural disaster caused is still immeasurable.

Fallen trees and power outages connected Lane County residents through this frozen fiasco. But cities within the county handled the ice storm uniquely to the circumstances they were struck with.

There’s no surprise that the ice storm caused issues for each of the cities. Springfield grappled with its boil water notice; Cottage Grove has drastic vegetation loss; and Creswell’s wetland areas and reservoir have immeasurable damage. But it’s important to remember that comparing each city’s struggles cannot adequately answer the question “Which city suffered the most?” because each city suffered in unique ways.

Data is still incomplete, as damages have not been fully grasped yet, but spokespeople from each of the three cities did discuss how the Jan. 12 storm’s unprecedented impairments have been tackled thus far and what’s on the horizon for continued remedial action.

In Springfield … 

“It’s been a difficult month of making sure we’re responding to everything the community needs,” said Anne Marie Levis, a public information officer for the City of Springfield.

Levis shared some data the City has collected thus far:

20,000+ street trees were damaged

216 reports made for damage to Springfield homes

6,200 bundles of firewood to residents given away by the City for free

12 crews are working in the community to clean up debris

908+ loads of debris dropped off at the City’s free drop-off site

“We’ve got a lot of numbers that help us talk about the magnitude, but when we really think about it, the magnitude is that every single individual in Springfield was impacted by this,” Levis said. “This matters to everyone at the City of Springfield.”

Levis said the City’s focus for the future is to work alongside Team Springfield to study the most current data in order to see “what changes we need to make.” She specifically mentioned a key aspect the City is analyzing, in order to learn from its recent actions, is communication.

“We’re at this point of inflection with communication that I think is really interesting,” Levis said. “It’s great that we’ve all defaulted to getting everything on our phones, but when the power’s out, you can’t charge your phone, and people don’t have radios as much anymore, except maybe in cars.”

According to Levis, the City is looking at its GIS (Geographic Information System) hazard map to think on how it can create a successful neighborhood by neighborhood communication system. She added that the City is also looking into different emergency alert systems.

“You can never be 100% prepared, but I think there’s lots we’ve learned from communications and systems that we can improve on,” she said.

In Creswell … 

According to city manager Michelle Amberg, Creswell was very fortunate in how minor the ice storm impacted the City – all things considered.

“All in all, everyone did a great job,” she said. “The hardest part was not having electricity. Once that came back on, our folks got back to their busy lives.” 

Amberg said the City is unable to truly tell the damages in certain places because it has to wait until the area “dries out.” Although the total amount of damage is not quantifiable yet, Amberg said the reservoir and City-owned wetlands area have many fallen fir trees and ash trees, which resulted in catastrophic damages. She also said the fencing in both of these locations will need to be replaced and repaired after the trees are removed.

As far as the City’s available data, Amberg did say the City will probably have about $100,000 in costs, mentioning three claims against the City: two for fallen limbs from City-owned trees and one for a City employee sliding a City-owned car into someone’s bumper in the ice. She also noted that there were five storm-related fatalities within the South Lane Fire District (SLFD): two died in a structure fire, and three died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Eugene-Springfield Fire said it had no reported fatalities due to the ice storm.

SLFD district chief Joe Raade said the two structure fire deaths were on Meyer Rd in Saginaw and Green Acres Loop just south of Cottage Grove.

“Creswell fortunately had no fire fatalities, and it’s been almost a decade since the last fire fatality,” Raade said.

He added that the three who were noted as having passed from carbon monoxide poisoning are still awaiting a coroner’s report, so that is an unofficial cause of death.

When looking ahead to prepare for the next emergency, Amberg discussed how the City utilized communication skills, acknowledging both what went right and what went wrong. There has been much community engagement in providing the City with feedback on this.

“The majority of the feedback I received about city communications during the storm has been very positive, with people citing the text messages as being the most helpful,” Amberg said in regards to the City’s TextMyGov alerts. “Many residents let me know that in addition to the internet being down, they would often lose the ability to make phone calls, but text messages would still come through. Residents told me that those text notifications saved them the trouble (and phone power) of calling businesses to see if they were open and what they would take.

“A few residents said they were disappointed in the delay in communication from the City,” she added. “We do understand where they are coming from and hope that we can improve on this next time. Residents should be able to receive updates from us as soon as possible during emergencies.”

In Cottage Grove … 

Public works director Faye Stewart, who also acted as interim city manager until Jan. 22, said the last month has been “incredibly busy.” The ice storm was devastating for the Grove, and Stewart said he was personally out of power for 11 days.

Stewart mentioned a couple lessons he has learned over the last month.

One was that the Grove could be out of power for even longer next time, which became an immediate concern since the City’s fuel tank is only large enough to last about three days without additional fuel. Stewart said Welt & Welt, Inc. assisted in providing fuel for the City’s generator during the early days of the ice storm.

Stewart also learned that the City needs to better prepare for emergency weather events like this. He hopes to do this through: evaluating the City’s fuel system, ensuring there is a larger shelter available for community members, implementing a better way to communicate during an emergency, and educating Grovers on emergency preparedness.

The City has hired 11 contracting crews to assist the City’s three crews in continuing “cleanup mode,” which focuses on debris removal. Stewart said this will probably take another few weeks before being able to move onto tasks which have not been a cause for immediate danger concerns. His hopes for the next month are to clean up all streets and right-of-ways so the City can start focusing on parks and begin tackling the fallen trees at the golf course. 

“There’s a lot of damaged tree limbs that aren’t necessarily posing an immediate threat to people’s lives, but it’s going to be part of our cleanup responsibilities,” Stewart said.

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