P.E.I. ramping up Fiona cleanup efforts this spring — but work could take years
'We're in this for the long haul,' says head of Highway Maintenance Division
P.E.I. government officials say they will ramp up post-Fiona cleaning efforts this spring, with experts warning that addressing the damage caused by the storm might take years.
The provincial government said Thursday that operations will kick into a higher gear now that the snow is gone, six months after the destructive post-tropical storm hit the Island.
Provincial crews will begin curbside pick-up of large pieces of tree debris outside Charlottetown and Summerside in the coming weeks, and plan to continue until the end of June. That's in addition to regular spring cleanup collections by Island Waste Management Corp. (IWMC).
"We ask that you don't put debris right on the roadway," said Stephen Szwarc, director with the Highway Maintenance Division. "Keep it back from the roadway, but accessible so that the gear can get to it."
He added that 16 pits where Islanders can drop off tree debris for free are also now open again. Some hadn't been accessible this winter because lanes leading to them were snowed-in or too muddy.
"We realize that we need to do something ... as quickly as possible, so as fast as we can make it. But we know it's not an overnight, a one-month job," Szwarc said.
"Before last Christmas we said, 'We're not going to be done this Christmas, so let's look at next Christmas' kind of deal. So we're in this for the long haul."
Residents can also still take their debris to any IWMC drop-off centre, though standard fees apply.
Province tackling wait list
Meanwhile, the province is still planning to help private homeowners who asked for assistance with safety-related cleanup before a Dec. 9 deadline. About 450 properties out of 6,100 applications remain on the waiting list.
Work on these properties is expected to continue throughout the spring, if not into the summer months.
Szwarc said provincial crews are out looking for damaged trees that might fall into roadways, posing a risk to the public, and "dealing with that as well."
Tree maintenance specialist at their busiest ever
While provincial crews ramp up cleanup efforts, landscaping companies said they're busy too — overwhelmingly so.
Kurt Laird, who owns Laird Tree Care in Charlottetown, said he's getting more calls this spring than at any other time in his 17 years in the tree maintenance business.
"I typically work a long day, anyways. But you know, you just can't sustain it for too long," Laird said.
"We had a much busier winter than ever before. But I would say that, you know, it'd probably be years, really ... cleaning up."
Laird said while most of the dangerous debris has been cleaned up, he still has people who applied for the company's services last fall on his waiting list. The company also has annually recurring work on its calendar, doing things like pruning, tree straightening, and planting.
It's kind of heartbreaking… but you can only be in so many places at the same time.— Kurt Laird
"There's been a lot of stump grinding or stump removal calls. But really, it's a variety of everything," he said.
"I try to take care of my customers, you know, because they've supported me over the years. But still even some customers that want things done before spring, I've just had to let them know that I can't come, unfortunately.
"It's kind of heartbreaking because you do have a relationship. But you can only be in so many places at the same time."