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Storm damage recycled to help other plants grow

Work crews put a fallen tree through a wood chipper near the Memorial Union.

Work crews take care of the debris from a large fallen tree near the Memorial Union on the Tempe campus on Sept. 2. Monday's storm knocked the tree over. It will be composted, along with the rest of the storm debris.
Photo by: Penny Walker/ASU News

September 03, 2015

Monday’s monsoon tempest caused more damage on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus than last year’s historic September deluge, according to facilities managers.

“This one took out full-grown mature trees that had been in the ground a long time,” said Randy Lopez, manager for ground facilities. “As far as cleanup and debris, it’s five times as bad as the one last September.”

There is a silver lining, however.

All the debris from the storm will be recycled as part of ASU’s Zero Waste program, according to Alana Levine, assistant director of the program. The Zero Waste Program seeks to reduce university landfill waste by 90 percent, averting some waste through reduced consumption and diverting the rest through recycling, composting and reusing or repurposing.

Almost 100 trees were downed Monday night. That’s double the 2014 storm, according to Lopez. The sheer volume of storm debris meant it had to be trucked to two places for composting, Levine said.

“We had to seek out two different places that could compost so it didn’t go into the landfill,” she said.

Singh Farms, a 20-acre organic farm in Scottsdale, takes 7 to 10 tons of green waste per month. It’s composted and returned to campus to be used on lawns, flowerbeds and tree rings.

The storm created more green waste than Singh Farms can handle, so some is being sent to the company that takes ASU’s food waste and composts it: Gro-Well, the largest composter in the Valley that takes food waste from the Memorial Union and dining halls.

Those composted trees and storm debris will help other plants grow.

“We’re hopefully fostering new trees,” Levine said.

How much debris was hauled off campus won’t be known for a few weeks, but Lopez said about 15 tons had been removed from campus as of Thursday afternoon.

“We’ll have a lot more,” he said. Two tree stumps weigh a ton themselves, Lopez said. The tree on the Memorial Union plaza, which fell into the solar array, made up 3 tons of debris alone.

There was no significant structural damage, Lopez said. Some solar panels on the MU array were damaged, and a tree fell into one of the Cholla apartment buildings.

Grounds crews started work the night of the storm, Levine said.

“As soon as it became safe for a crew to go, we had a night crew out assessing for safety issues and damage,” she said. “We had a lot of material left all over campus. Some of them were safety issues, which took priority over everything else: limbs hanging over sidewalks, clearing roadways — we had a lot of trees down in roadways.”

A regular crew started cleanup at 5 a.m. Getting students to classes as quickly as possible was a priority. Anything that needed to be removed by heavy equipment was cordoned off with caution tape.

“It was quite the response,” Levine said. “We had the troops out for sure. … A lot of it’s unseen because it happens late at night or early in the morning.”

From there it was a matter of making things normal again: chipping branches, gathering debris and getting it off to be diverted. Metal that was torn off buildings “all went into recycling,” Levine said.

Those piles of branches magically there at 8 a.m.?

“That got there through a force of people,” Levine said. “That is what we do — we make this campus safe for everyone.”