About 1,500 Utah homes remain without power

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Main Street in Centerville was closed due to power lines blown down by the high winds on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020.

A week after a windstorm of unprecedented ferocity blasted the Wasatch Front, 1,500 homes remained without power Tuesday morning as utility crews continue to toil round the clock, reattaching wires knocked down by falling trees and branches. Meanwhile, piles of downed material are expected to clog residential streets for many days, if not weeks.

Utility repair work will continue all week and nearly all customers are expected to have power restored by Wednesday, according to Spencer Hall, spokesperson for Rocky Mountain Power, Utah’s chief power provider.

The widespread damage has overwhelmed RMP’s resources, and it has called in help from affiliated utilities in Nevada and Iowa.

“It’s the sheer volume. It’s a matter of getting to things,” Hall said. “We prioritized repairs that would bring back power on the most customers at once, as well as critical care centers, then moving down to smaller pockets.”

Crews are now getting to those smaller pockets scattered about Salt Lake City and its neighbors. Some 1,045 separate outages remain Monday evening within RMP’s service area, which does not include hard-hit Bountiful.

“It’s frustrating [for residents] to see crews in the neighborhood doing work and they are the last ones to have power restored,” Hall said.

Slowing RMP’s progress are calls for outages at specific homes due to damage to the meter base.

“We can’t work on equipment that is not power company equipment,” Hall said. “You need to call an electrician.”

The utility is also getting asked to fix downed lines that don’t carry electrical power.

“People are calling who see down lines in their yards and it’s cable or internet,” Hall said. “If your power is on, don’t call.”

Also occurring on an epic scale is the removal of woody biomass that has piled up along every tree-lined street in Salt Lake City. The city’s first priority is to dismember the hundreds of trees that have fallen on streets, sidewalks, parks and homes, according to Nate Orbock, a service coordinator with Salt Lake City’s Division of Urban Forestry.

While the city is obligated to remove debris from trees on parking strips, officials are asking residents to refrain from hauling downed branches from their yards to the street. Technically speaking, that material is the homeowners' problem, but the city intends to help at some point.

“We will be coordinating bulk green waste collection for private trees and tree limbs in the coming days and weeks, but we are not quite there yet,” the city posted on a windstorm FAQ webpage. “This is a large, collective effort due to the unprecedented scale of damage and we anticipate it will take the City weeks to finish removing debris.”

In the meantime, residents hauling debris from their yards to the street is slowing down the cleanup, according to Orbock. Residents may haul storm debris to the landfill and deposit it there for free.

While the winds tore off countless branches of stately sycamore, maple, plane and other deciduous trees, many conifers went completely sideways, exposing their roots.

“If there is a species susceptible to wind throw, spruce would be that species,” Orbock said. “There is something about their root systems that make them susceptible to toppling.”

Utah’s older cities, such as Salt Lake City and Ogden, fared the worst because of the high concentrations of historic trees, some older than a century. The Rose Park and Sugar House neighborhoods were particularly hard hit, Orbock said.

City officials have yet to determine how many historic trees died in last week’s storm, but the unofficial estimate is 1,000 down, and that’s not counting those on the University of Utah campus, on private property or neighboring cities.

Normally, windfall is promptly mulched, but the catastrophic magnitude of last week’s tree damage could make it impossible to shred everything into usable compost.

Logs may be dropped at Salt Lake City’s Urban Indian Center, 120 W. 1300 South, which will deliver them to Native American communities that rely on heat from wood-burning stoves. Wood can also be dropped off at Esther’s Garden, 2425 E. Heritage Way, until Thursday, between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. at both locations.

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