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City may hire ReEnergy biomass facility for debris removal

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What does the city do about the tons of damaged trees and downed limbs and branches that remain all over Watertown from the Dec. 21 ice storm?

City staff may have the answer: hire Fort Drum-based ReEnergy Holdings LLC’s Black River biomass company to deal with the mess.

At the Watertown City Council meeting Monday night, Eugene P. Hayes, superintendent of public works, said city staff has approached ReEnergy about helping the city get rid of the massive amount of tree limbs and debris generated by the ice storm.

The Fort Drum plant, which opened in June after approximately $34 million in work was done to convert the site from burning coal, currently provides power to the area around the post, and sells renewable energy credits to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

City senior planner Michael A. Lumbis, who oversees Tree Watertown, the city’s street tree advisory board, has contacted ReEnergy officials to see if the company can solve the tree debris problem.

“We’ll see where it goes from here,” said Mr. Hayes, who projected it will cost the city more than $250,000 to remove the limbs and branches, and that it could take until spring to entirely complete the job.

One option is that ReEnergy would grind up all the debris at an old quarry the city owns off Route 11 just north of the Watertown boundary, where it would then be hauled away to the Fort Drum site, Mr. Lumbis explained. It would be completed at no cost to the city, he said.

In another scenario, the city itself could truck all the debris to the ReEnergy site, where it would be ground, he said. If done that way, the city would be paid $24 per ton for the material, but it would be costly for the city to transport it there.

A third option could be a combination of doing the work at the quarry and the city trucking it up to Fort Drum, he said. ReEnergy officials could not be reached for comment.

The ice storm cleanup issue came up Monday night after Councilwoman Roxanne M. Burns suggested that the city should see if ReEnergy could do the work.

After hearing the company had already been contacted, she said, “I guess great minds think alike.”

So far, it’s costing the city $15,000 a week for DPW crews to concentrate on the massive cleanup efforts. The immense ice buildup from the Dec. 21 incident, frigid temperatures and now a snowstorm are hindering the cleanup, Mr. Hayes said.

As planned now, DPW crews will use heavy equipment over the next two to three weeks to make a single sweep around the city to pick up debris.

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