The October ’97 snowstorm caused damage to an estimated nine out of 10 trees in Omaha. The unprecedented damage left many residents brokenhearted and wondering whether their trees were beyond repair.
It was the area’s worst storm in terms of tree damage, Jerry Hakenholz, then-supervisor of Forestry and Cable Locating, said following the October ’97 storm.
So how did the area replace its lost tree canopy?
In 1998, OPPD allocated $250,000 through its Tree Promotion Program (TPP) for tree-planting projects in the impacted area over a three-year period. Needless to say, these years were busy for the utility’s Forestry Department. Over the life of the program, from 1989 to 2014, OPPD’s TPP provided 117,756 trees and shrubs to nonprofit groups, organizations and schools in southeast Nebraska.
However, OPPD also was among the local businesses that pledged support to the Branching Out Program, which was created for the community following the catastrophic event. The program, in the short-term, provided technical information about tree-trimming and how to evaluate tree damage. It also provided millions of dollars toward a tree-planting effort to replenish hard-hit areas.
One part of the program in which OPPD was heavily involved was the city of Omaha’s street tree-planting project, through which individuals could request trees to be planted within 20 feet of public streets or roads. Omaha’s program was expanded to include six counties in the utility’s service area: Douglas, Sarpy, Washington, Cass, Saunders and Dodge.
OPPD contributed $30,000 to this project, which provided 1,800 eight-foot, bare-root trees of 14 different species.
Along with this, OPPD Forestry personnel inspected all tree requests from Omaha and surrounding counties. For each application, an OPPD forester inspected the site to make sure people were planting the right trees in the right location for safety and other reasons.
The tree damage from this storm highlighted the importance of this public education effort, which OPPD continues to this day.
“As a result of this storm and the ensuing tree damage, public education in regards to tree planting and selection became even more important, as did proper tree maintenance,” OPPD Utility Forester Mike Norris said. “In 2003 the OPPD arboretum opened to the public to provide information regarding the planting of the right tree in the right place and to demonstrate proper tree maintenance. Through other outreach efforts, such as PSAs, web videos and Wire stories, OPPD provides customers with information regarding proper tree planting and maintenance, along with information on current arboricultural issues like the Emerald Ash Borer.”