With storms, our great asset turned to liability

The scene at 63rd Street driving north on Roe Ave. Sunday was telling: a sign proudly letting motorists they were entering Fairway, designated Tree City USA for 12 years running, hung from a single screw, the victim of the sustained 60 mile per hour winds that inflicted tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage on area trees.

Indeed, last week’s storms highlighted a drawback of living in older suburbs. In the wrong situation, the beautiful old tree stock that’s usually viewed as a draw to the area can prove a major hazard — especially after a wild spell of weather like we’ve seen this summer.

“We have a lot of stressed out trees around here,” said Fairway Public Works Director Bill Stogsdill. “Drought takes its toll.”

While routine maintenance — trimming branches and examining for changes that indicate disease or insect infestation — can help reduce the likelihood of having major branches fall, there’s nothing to be done to guard against freak wind storms. Stogsdill noted that the storms inflicted most of their damage on soft wood trees like maples, while harder wood trees like oaks fared better.

“Anytime you get 60 mile per hours winds, trees are going to be at risk,” Stogsdill said. “There’s not much you can do about it.”

Both Prairie Village and Fairway routinely maintain trees in public rights of way or with branches hanging out over streets. Property owners in the cities are responsible for addressing potentially hazardous situations with trees rooted on their property.

Prairie Village’s crews are planning on spending the majority of the next week continuing the clean up, said Public Works Director Bruce McNabb. The crews spent the days after the storms making sure roads were clear enough for traffic to pass. Now, they’re trying to remove large branches and trunks from the sides of the road.

“We’re mulching everything we can,” McNabb said. “Some of that stuff is too big to mulch.”