The October ’97 snowstorm damaged an estimated nine out of 10 trees in Omaha. As a result, OPPD enacted a tree program to ease concerns of 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.
How did the area replace its lost tree canopy?
In 1998, OPPD allocated $250,000 to its Tree Promotion Program (TPP) for tree-planting projects in the impacted area over a three-year period. These years were busy for the utility’s Forestry Department. Over the life of the program, from 1989 to 2014, TPP provided 117,756 trees and shrubs to nonprofit groups, organizations and schools in southeast Nebraska.
OPPD was also among local businesses pledging support to the Branching Out Program. This program provided short-term technical information about tree-trimming and damage evaluation. Millions of dollars went toward a tree-planting effort to replenish hard-hit areas.
OPPD was heavily involved in a tree-planting project focused on Omaha streets. Individuals could request trees be planted within 20 feet of public streets or roads. The Omaha program 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 in 14 different species.
OPPD Forestry personnel also inspected all tree requests from Omaha and surrounding counties. An OPPD forester inspected every site to ensure people were planting the right trees in the right location.
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, online videos and Wire stories, OPPD continues to provide customers with tree-related information.