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Picking up the pieces

Backup generators do their job for city

NORTH LIBERTY– Council member Raquisha Harrington summed it up during an Aug. 11 meeting.
“2020 has not been nice to anyone at all,” she observed.
Harrington was echoing comments from other North Liberty City Council members who voiced support for city employees after an inland hurricane known as a derecho tore a path across the state and into Illinois Monday, Aug. 11, leaving hundreds of thousands without power for days.
Power was restored to most North Liberty residents by Tuesday afternoon, allowing council members to continue with a regularly scheduled virtual meeting.
The storm caused widespread damage to trees and structures, although North Liberty was spared the extensive destruction experienced in Cedar Rapids.
“This was a pretty wicked storm, obviously, with the wind gusts reaching nearly 98 miles an hour,” noted City Administrator Ryan Heiar.
The oldest portions of the town with the most mature trees, notably Front Street, sustained the heaviest damage, with debris piled up in the right-of-way on both sides of the street.
Heiar discussed the city’s response to the storm, following up on information distributed to council members prior to the meeting.
City staff worked around the clock to maintain operations, Heiar reported.
Many city facilities have backup power sources, he said, and were part of the planning process for the new water plant and street maintenance building on the public works campus off Front Street.
“We spent a significant amount of money on generators,” he stated. “They don’t get used all that often, but when they do, it’s so critical.”
The majority of city facilities, including water and wastewater treatment plants, would have had to shut down, he explained.
Instead, generators powered water, wastewater, streets, parks, police and fire departments, as well as all lift stations and the community center, Heiar said.
The city was also able to keep 10 or 11 signalized intersections in operation.
“They all did their job,” he said of the generators.
While there was a lot going on behind the scenes during the initial outage, he said, by Tuesday the city was focusing on clearing debris.
“It’s going to be a long process to get all this stuff cleaned up,” he noted.
Crews have been picking up the aftermath of the derecho in parks and streets, and are asking residents to place downed limbs between the street and curb in 10-foot sections if possible.
“We know not everyone can do that,” he added.
Additionally, residents can take brush to a pile off Golf View Drive just west of the public works campus.
The area will be open in the evenings after work to accommodate residents.
“The more people who can do that, the faster it will all get cleaned up,” he observed.
The city may have to hire contractors to assist with disposing of the debris, Heiar said.
Otherwise, the city administrator noted, the police and fire departments were very busy with public assistance, including responding to an accident on Interstate 380 involving a semi pushed over by the wind and a house fire Tuesday morning after power was re-established. The fire is still under investigation, he added.
Johnson County has been declared a disaster area by Gov. Kim Reynolds, he said, so some funding should be available for the city to recover the added expenses.
Council member Brent Smith expressed his thanks to the police and fire department members who responded to the emergency. Smith noted it would be an enormous help for residents who are able to bring downed branches to the public works pile.
“That’ll help the city quite a bit,” he suggested.
Harrington acknowledged the efforts of all city employees working non-stop to battle the storm’s impact and applauded residents for helping each other out.
“To see neighbors coming together has been phenomenal,” she said.
Noting the amount of debris, Harrington asked whether the city had rescheduled a citywide cleanup day.
Nothing has been scheduled, Heiar responded, but staff expects to discuss a modified no-contact version in the coming weeks.
Council member Annie Pollock ended the meeting by thanking everyone in the community for their efforts.
Pollock encouraged senior citizens or residents with disabilities in need to reach out to city staff for help in obtaining assistance.
Subsequent to the council meeting, the city announced it would open the community center for showers and device charging through Sunday, Aug. 16, to anyone in the ICR area impacted by the Aug. 10 derecho.
Free Wifi is available in the North Liberty Community Library parking lot 24/7.