Lights and action plans

The Town of Chapel Hill has seen and suffered through numerous disasters in the past 10 years. Starting after Hurricane Fran, preparedness plans were set up and a command center was designated and staffed and given a dedicated generator. Meals were brought in for the crews working to clear storm damage from the 2000 snow (22 inches of snow in 24 hours), the ice storms of 2001 and 2002, back-to-back hurricanes in September 2003, and many others, most of which passed below the public's radar, such as the flooding at Camelot Apartments around the same time as the flooding at Eastgate shopping center.

Yesterday, 16 April, the plans did not materialize. Crews were sent out at 7 am to do their normal routine, despite weather predictions of very high winds and heavy rains. Within an hour and a half, phones were ringing off the hook at the Public Works with reports of trees and power lines down. Still, a plan failed to materialize until after 1 pm.

Several trees were blown over by high winds across Franklin St, bringing power lines and phone lines down with them, around 9 am. They weren't cleared until overnight due to lack of communication planning with Duke Power, causing traffic problems for 10+ hours, and causing buses to be rerouted and making commuters unable to reach their vehicles after work.

There were two lanes open (one in each direction) on Franklin St. at Elizabeth St. at the Commuter Alternative Parking lot, and police and public works employees were directing neighborhood traffic through the area. However, although they tried to direct traffic through the makeshift lanes, many drivers insisted on going the wrong way through the temporary lane. After traffic was cut off except to local residents, many drivers lied about their destination and broke through the traffic control, so police made the decision to shut Franklin St. to all traffic.

Where were the contingency plans? Did no-one at Public Works watch the weather over the weekend? There were no chainsaws sharpened, no rotation of crews set up for 24 hour coverage, and no briefing of staff on problems and solutions. Furthermore, many of the tree problems that were exacerbated by yesterday's storm could have been prevented if the Town had hired a competent and qualified arborist after John Scott retired in 2002.

Over the past 2-3 years, the Town has seen major turn-over in its upper ranks - a new Town Manager, a new Director of Public Works, and a new superintendent of Landscape have all moved in from out of town. Do they have a realistic view of the history of storms and storm damage in Chapel Hill, or of how to prepare for them?



One would think, with the new $42,000,000 public works facility that everything would be great and we would never lose our internet. So, after all this money spent, I agree- what in the heck is going on here?? Maybe Chapel Hill needs to raise its taxes to cover trees falling down in high winds.


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