All around the Twin Cities one can still see fallen trees and gaping holes in the leafy canopy -- damage left by last month's violent storm -- and wonder: Why is cleanup taking so long?
One reason is that the damage done by the June 21 storm was so extensive. The numbers are preliminary, but 3,000 trees were probably lost in Minneapolis and more than 1,000 in St. Paul.
On a block on St. Paul's west side, a few neighbors gather to watch crews deal with the only remaining damage -- a hanging limb. A four-man crew operates an aerial truck, a clam loader and a truck to haul the brush away.
"You can see on this tree over here, the aerial truck is getting ready to take out that large limb that's overhanging the sidewalk that's broken," said Scott Kruse, a St. Paul forestry supervisor. "That's the kind of stuff this truck will look for as they go up and down the block, remove that from the tree, get it down, make it safe."
Six St. Paul city crews like this one have been working overtime for nearly a month. The pace has slowed a bit as the downed trees are removed from the streets and sidewalks and yard debris is being picked up.
All that wood is hauled to a chipping site and eventually burned at the District Energy plant in downtown St. Paul. It's a handy energy source, Kruse says.
"The debris does go for a good use, for heating and air conditioning in St. Paul," he said.
Minneapolis trees and debris are also burned, at Koda Energy in Shakopee, to generate electricity and steam heat for industrial use. But the company also deposits wood chips in several locations around the city for residents to use in their gardens.
One reason so many trees were upended by the storm is due to the rain-saturated soil, said Dawn Sommers, communications manager for Minneapolis Parks and Recreation.
Heavy spring rains prompted trees to leaf out luxuriantly. But that generous canopy became a sail to catch wind that tipped trees of all ages and sizes, Sommers said.
"We lost a Bur oak tree down in the south-central area of Minneapolis, the tree trunk alone was 18,000 pounds, and our arborists were guessing it was over 200 years old," Sommers said. "That tree withstood many other storms, but the saturated soil continues to be a problem for us."
Sommers said crews are just now discovering trees that are leaning and toppling, even though they were upright just after the storm.
It's impossible to predict when the cleanup job will be done, she said. Minneapolis is leaving the tree stumps for last. The stumps will provide important evidence when the state applies for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"Every tipped-up root has to be measured and photographed for a FEMA process, and that just takes some time," Sommers said. "All that has to be GPS'd, measured, and photographed before we can remove the stump."
Sommers said crews have finished preliminary cleanup in much of Minneapolis, but the hardest hit area , a 20-block-wide swath from Cedar Lake to Minnehaha Park in south Minneapolis, will take longer. She estimates the city has already spent more than a million dollars, most of it to rent heavy equipment.
There's no good time for severe storms, but from one standpoint, summer could be the worst. Emerald ash borer beetles are flying now, looking for new areas to colonize. Kruse is a little worried that the winds could have carried the beetles farther than they might have flown on their own, and could create new pockets of destruction. He urges people not to cut up fallen trees and transport the wood.
"Whether it's ash or elm or oak, there's reasons not to move firewood and bring them anywhere outside of the area where they came from," Kruse said.
The bright spot in all the devastation is that it could have been a lot worse, said Lee Frelich, who directs the University of Minnesota's Center for Forest Ecology.
"It's amazing to me that we have so many trees that withstand a storm like that, come through it just fine and live for many more years," Frelich said.