Derecho cleanup to cost city an estimated $50M this year, and it's not over yet

·3 min read
City of Ottawa crews seen in late June, removing debris from the May 21 derecho. In an update Tuesday, the city's chief financial officer said the cleanup 'required a tremendous level of dedicated work and co-ordination.' (Jacques Corriveau / CBC - image credit)
City of Ottawa crews seen in late June, removing debris from the May 21 derecho. In an update Tuesday, the city's chief financial officer said the cleanup 'required a tremendous level of dedicated work and co-ordination.' (Jacques Corriveau / CBC - image credit)

The cost of cleaning up after the fatal derecho windstorm in May is expected to reach $50 million by the end of the year for the City of Ottawa, its chief financial officer said in a memo released Tuesday.

The tally comes as the Public Works department prepares to return to regular operations this Friday after four months of dedicated response to the storm that caused widespread damage across the capital — an effort department general manager Alain Gonthier described in a separate Tuesday update as "unprecedented."

But the work isn't over yet. While the Public Works special response ends Friday, clean-up and restoration will continue in 2023 as trees are planted and stumps are removed.

Here's a breakdown of the "unbudgeted" costs incurred, provided by chief financial officer Wendy Stephanson in her Tuesday memo to mayor and council:

  • $9 million so far on the community support centres and wellness visits set up in the immediate aftermath of the storm for 180,000 thousands of residents left without power, tree and organic debris removal and disposal, repairing signalized intersections, and cleaning up downed trees in parks, pathways and forested areas.

  • By the end of the year, that figure is expected to climb to $15.25 million.

  • $4.25 million to repair three pieces of city infrastructure: two road salt storage domes and the roof of a city building.

Francis Ferland/CBC
Francis Ferland/CBC

City staff began tracking storm-related costs as soon as it hit, Stephanson said, and the costs will be reflected in the Q2 tax and rate updates tabled at a finance and economic development committee meeting in October.

"As clean-up efforts will flow in to 2023, financial pressures are expected to continue into next year," Stephanson's memo added.

650 traffic signs, 175 intersections repaired 

In Gonthier's Tuesday update, he said Public Works staff removed debris from more than 500 parks, repaired about 175 intersections with traffic lights and more than 650 traffic signs, removed about 260 tons of organic waste, and inspected and collected debris — including thousands of damaged and destroyed trees — along more than 10,000 lane kilometres of roads.

It has also processed about 75,000 bags of woodchips to give away for free across the city, which ends Friday along with the department's specialized storm recovery effort.

Residents still dealing with storm-related debris can get rid of it through standard weekly leaf and yard waste collection, as long as they follow those rules.

The redeployment of staff to deal with the storm's aftermath superseded some regular maintenance work, including water value and concrete repairs, maintaining catch basins and more, Gonthier's memo added.

Some of that work will have to wait until 2023, as staff are now gearing up for winter operations.

"Although most staff will be returning to regular operations, it will take some time for the department to catch up on these items and we appreciate residents' ongoing support," the memo added.

Removing stumps and planting trees

Work begins this fall to remove about 450 uprooted stumps on city-owned portions of lawns, and if residents haven't already received letters about that, they will soon, the memo said. Removals will extend into 2023.

Next on the list will be removing more than 2,000 intact stumps in 2023 from spring to fall, as well as planting trees.

Tree replacement doesn't happen automatically and doesn't happen at the same time that stumps are removed. Residents who want to replace downed trees on city-owned right of ways must file a request through the Trees in Trust program.

"Staff are looking at options to expand tree plantings in 2023, including partnership opportunities and support for planting on private property," Gonthier's memo added.

"The city is committed to re-establishing the lost tree canopy by replanting lost city trees."