Storm debris will fuel power plant
Out of sight, out of mind. That's how many of us may feel after fallen trees and branches have been hauled away from our homes.
But what will become of all that tree debris culled by last week's destructive storm?
Pakou Ly, a spokeswoman for the city of Duluth, said most of it will be chipped and hauled, ton by ton, to Minnesota Power's Hibbard Renewable Energy Center, where it will be used to generate steam for the neighboring Verso paper and recycling mills, as well as renewable energy for local electric customers.
The plant can consume up to 40 semitrailer loads of biomass fuel per day, said Amy Rutledge, manager of corporate communications for Minnesota Power and its parent company, Allete.
As for how much tree debris the city expects to receive from the storm, Ly said: "We are still focused on collection so cannot provide totals yet." But she referred to the quantity as "rather overwhelming."
A number of individuals also have seized on the storm as an opportunity to put up firewood for their homes and or cabins.
Ly said the city doesn't want people to scavenge firewood from designated drop-off sites for storm debris, such as the one on Rice Lake Road.
"The purpose of the drop-off site is for drop-off and not pickup," she said. "There are vehicles going in and out dumping large piles of brush. It's an active site with large vehicles. The other factor here is safety. We do not want people to get hurt digging through the mound of debris."
Ly also said the city may be eligible to recoup the cost of dealing with storm-damaged trees, but firewood scavengers could complicate those efforts to seek reimbursement.
"We do not want people collecting the storm debris for private use because we need to track the collection and amount collected in case it is relevant towards disaster-relief funding," she said.
Louise Levy, an arborist and owner of Levy Tree Care LLC of Duluth, urges people to exercise extra caution in transporting any ash logs, in light of the discovery in October of the destructive emerald ash borer on Park Point.
"Since EAB has not been found outside of Park Point yet, there's not a quarantine anywhere else in the city. So technically, legally, the movement of wood is fine. But I think a lot of people who are knowledgeable about EAB ... suspect it's most likely around elsewhere in the area, even though we haven't found it yet," she said.
Levy observed that the invasive pest could hitch a ride if infested ash firewood is moved across the city.
"Firewood transport has been identified for a long time as the most significant contributor to the geographic spread of this insect," she said.
Ly suggested people would be wise to allow city crews to safely dispose of fallen ash trees and limbs by chipping the wood and then hauling it to the Hibbard plant for incineration.
"Our goal is to collect all of the debris and chip it. If ash trees are among the debris, we can hopefully thwart the spread of EAB," she said.
For the past couple years, the Hibbard plant has been used to safely dispose of ash trees cut down in Superior, as the city works to halt the spread of the emerald ash borer, which is already pervasive there. Rutledge said Minnesota Power has been receiving between 400 and 500 tons of ash tree debris annually from Superior.
Rutledge said Minnesota Power can certainly make good use of any wood it receives from Dulut as well.
"This storm debris will be similar to the forest residue that Hibbard receives from area loggers when they harvest timber for our regional paper and wood products industries," she said. "Minnesota Power is pleased to be a part of the storm restoration efforts and to put the debris from this extreme event to beneficial reuse for our industry and customers in the region."