July 12, 2020

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Simple as Pick-up Sticks

By Great Mills Trading Post
Leading Edge

Clearing the roads after a hurricane is actually pretty simple, given the right equipment, the trained labor to operate it, and lots and lots of time.

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For St. Mary’s and Calvert counties – thrashed last week by Hurricane Irene – that means digging deep into the ranks of Great Mills Trading Post, the biggest heavy-equipment operator in the region. Located at the Indian Bridge Road and Route 5 intersection at the western edge of the Bay District, the Trading Post, along with much of commercial Great Mills, flooded.

It is a simple job, explained Herbie Smith, the Trading Post’s Vice President of Operations, as he stood in the flooded headquarters of the firm. First, they had to cut and remove the trees blocking the roads up to any downed electrical wires. As with the emergency crews of the Maryland State Highway Administration, personnel from Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative are required to lead removal efforts impacted by electrical lines.

Crews remove Hurricane Irene debris from the Wildewood neighborhood. (Photo by Susan Pinekenstein)

Second, Smith explained, they had to have the right equipment and experienced operators  available to support the electrical repair crews, who often need additional trees or segments of trees removed as they dismantle and make safe the downed electrical lines.

With large enough equipment and skilled operators the tasks are simple. The finesse is to know which branch to pluck first, which next, and then which next, and to also know when to stop and wait for another crew.

The process is something like a gargantuan version of the old child’s game of pick-up sticks working on the scale of huge hardwood and pine trees. Just like in the old game, moving the wrong stick can topple the entire pile. Unlike the game, in real hurricane world, a toppling pile can take out a piece of equipment, a house or all the lives nearby. Plus there is the added danger of live electrical wires interlacing much of the debris that could spring loose when tension is lifted or even fly free.

The third and final step is to remove the debris and haul it an approved disposal site, Smith said. Five temporary yard waste disposals sites were opened on privately owned farms and mining operations in St. Mary’s County. Ultimately control burns at those sites will reduce the debris to ash.

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