Ice Storm – What You Need to Know

The recent Ice Storm was one of the most devastating natural events in recent memory in our Town. The results of this storm were immediate for many residents who lost power for a few hours, and in many cases in Ward 4, for several days. In fact, according to Powerstream, over 36,000 households in Richmond Hill lost power during the period between December 22nd and 31st. Many people were forced to leave their homes to live with relatives and friends over the Holiday season, or alternatively use the three Overnight Warming Centres that were set up by our Town Staff at The Richvale Community Centre, The Rougewoods Community Centre and The Oak Ridges Community Centre. I was interested to hear that our Fire and Emergency Service, which typically responds to 20-30 calls a day, responded to almost 300 calls during the crisis period. Thankfully however, it has been reported that no one was seriously hurt, or worse, during this event.

The more long-term legacy of this storm is just as serious. Over 200,000 trees, including over 5000 Town trees, have been damaged, and in many cases, will have to be replaced. It is ironic that many Ash Trees that the Town has been trying so hard to save by treating with a chemical that fights the Emerald Ash Borer, that is slowly killing them, have now been devastated by the Ice Storm and will now need to be removed.

The cost of the Ice Storm will top $6M over the next 2 years, and on January 14th our Council directed staff to apply for Disaster Relief Funding from the Province of Ontario, or at the very least, financial support, to help pay for the aftermath of this storm. It is unclear whether Richmond Hill would specifically qualify for Disaster Relief Funds under the Ontario Disaster Relief Program (ODRAP) but we are asking for financial support from the province in whatever form it may be available.

We have a large and expensive task ahead of us trimming hanging branches that may pose a danger to people (Phase 1 of the Clean Up Plan), cleaning up debris (Phase 2 of the Clean Up Plan), and then pruning and replanting trees where necessary (Phase 3 of the Clean Up Plan). At the present moment the Town is finishing Phase 1 – cutting branches from trees that pose a hazard to people or property. When this Phase is complete we will be directing staff to concentrate all of their resources (18 chippers and 10 bucket trucks and a full complement of staff) on the clean up Phase of the Plan. We have our own Town forestry staff working hard to complete these tasks and we have also hired a number of private contract crews and Arbourists from other Municipalities. We are fortunate to have procured this outside help, because at the moment, we are also competing for these same resources with other GTA municipalities that are in a similar situation as Richmond Hill.

Some areas of Ward 4 have already seen some clean up and more areas will see crews in their neighbourhoods in the coming days and weeks.  On a map produced by the Town showing an inventory of damage, it came as no surprise to me that Ward 4 residents have been harder hit with regard to damaged trees, than many parts of our Town. As a result, many of these areas will receive the first visits from the “chipper trucks” and clean up crews. It is clear that while some debris was bundled by residents and removed during the Christmas Tree and Additional Yard Waste pick up on January 6th and 20th, there is still a lot of debris left to remove. Residents are asked to bring their tree limbs to the curb (but please do not block the sidewalk or roadway) where crews with wood chippers will remove them. This will be a monumental task and we ask residents to be patient, as it will take several months to complete this part of the clean up plan. It was communicated to council, that realistically, the clean up may have to be done in several sweeps, because after the snow fully melts more debris will become evident. However, it is anticipated that the first wave of clean up will be complete by the end of February.

I have had many question from residents about the plan “after the clean up” – Phase 3, which will entail restoration of some trees by trimming damaged branches and pruning so that the tree can regain its health in the years to come, and will also entail cutting down trees that are damaged beyond repair, and replanting replacement trees. Keeping in mind that there are close to 5000 Town trees that may need to be replaced, it will take a substantial amount of time to remove the tree, remove the stump, and then replant – and then repeat this task a thousand times over. The replanting effort alone will be a challenge since, for example, the tree nurseries that supply these trees will soon receive calls from municipalities across the GTA to supply them with new trees. Our staff has already begun the procurement process for new trees in anticipation of this much higher than usual demand.

Like many of our Ward 4 residents I was shocked and deeply saddened by the loss of so many trees in a single weather event. The Town of Richmond Hill has a plan in place that will repair the damage to our trees, and over time, our beautiful Ward 4 will be back to a new place of beauty. I would ask that anyone with questions or concerns please contact me, as I am sure I have not been able to answer all questions here. The rebuilding phase will require much cooperation and resident engagement, and it is this citizen interest, and pride in our community that makes Richmond Hill great. Given the situation that we find ourselves in, I look forward to beginning this journey with you to make our community greater than it was before.

A word about our Tree Preservation Bylaw and its relation to the Ice Storm Aftermath

Going forward I anticipate a number of calls from residents regarding the removal of  damaged trees and how this related to our Tree Preservation Bylaw.

 

  • The bylaw exempts “emergency work” from permit requirements, so if a tree is posing a danger and a limb must be removed no permit is required
  • In many cases it would be best to make an effort to save any trees that can be saved in order to provide long-term environmental and aesthetic benefits for the community.
  • It is always best to contact an arbourist to assess the best way to proceed before removing a tree, but it is recognized that arbourist services will be in high demand in the coming months and residents who believe their tree may be a hazard as a result of the ice storm are asked to photograph the damaged part of the tree and submit it with a tree permit application for review by staff.
  • For more information call 905-771-8800 and ask for the forestry staff. They will be available to assist you with your specific concerns.