Tri-City wind storm toll could top $550,000

By Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 5, 2013 

The violent winds that ripped through the Tri-Cities last month did significant damage in Richland, where city losses and costs could top $550,000.

That figure doesn't include damage to private property within city limits, which also was substantial. And it could rise even higher as officials continue to assess damage.

The storm blew through the region Dec. 16 and 17, with 60-, 70- and 80-mph gusts recorded around the Tri-City area. Other cities saw damage to their property, too, though it generally wasn't as costly as Richland's.

About 100 city trees toppled in Richland, including several at John Dam Plaza off George Washington Way. Many residents also lost power.

The estimated price tag for the city's immediate response -- including overtime pay for city workers who scrambled to unblock roadways and restore power -- totals $248,644.

Another $304,539 could be needed to "replace and restore damaged property," bringing the total damage estimate to $553,183, the city said in a statement. That includes replacing a heavily damaged roof at the city's fleet maintenance facility off Duportail Street.

"The overall total may increase as staff evaluates the impact more thoroughly," the city statement said.

City Manager Cindy Johnson said she hasn't seen a storm cause this much destruction in her city in the decade she's been working there.

At first, the city "didn't really know how far-reaching it was," she said. "I think the first calls were, basically, police, fire and (the city's power utility). We had power lines down. And then when the crews started showing up, then we realized these were trees down over our roadways, where people can't get to work. Then it was, all right, how do we deal with this?"

The city is submitting storm damages to its insurance carrier and seeking state aid, officials said.

In Kennewick and West Richland, officials generally reported minimal property damage and little, if any, overtime needed for workers to deal with the storm.

Benton County also saw minimal property damage. Franklin County didn't see facility damage, but "we have around $20,000 spent in tree trimming, weed burning and debris clean up" as a result of the storm, said Public Works Director Matt Mahoney.

The city of Pasco lost 32 trees, including some "really, really nice, big evergreens at the library," said Rick Terway, administrative and community services director.

The winds also caused $15,000 to $20,000 in damage to an outfield fence at Gesa Stadium and sent at least two stop signs flying, among other city property damage.

In Richland, Johnson said she's grateful there was no loss of life or serious injuries related to the storm. "That's the most important thing to us," she said.

She added that she's "very, very proud" of city staff.

"It was really nice to see how quickly people got here, people started working around the clock to get power restored to our citizens, which is extremely important, to get our roadways opened up," Johnson said. "Everyone pitched in."

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