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Winter storm "Pax" leaves much debris, not much 'peace'

The morning after 'Pax'--before the work began.
The morning after 'Pax'--before the work began.
Stephen V. Geddes

Last month, around February 12, when winter storm "Pax" drifted through our area, we had a brief interlude of quiet and winter wonderland here in Aiken and, indeed, in all of the Central Savannah River Area. The wonderland ceased to be when that first inopportunely placed branch snapped under the weight of the ice "Pax" brought us and took with it the power line that served our area of town. This article describes the impact of the storm on one neighborhood in Aiken. Problems mentioned here are descriptive of problems found throughout our area and throughout much of the Georgia-Carolina area.

Two days ago, you could hardly see the neighbor's house for the debris.  Now it's a nice backdrop for the peach blossoms.
Stephen V. Geddes

The "peace" was almost here, since there was quiet (and darkness) excepting for the occasional greenish flash and report that heralded another blown transformer (somewhere else--transformers don't blow when there's no power available,) or the occasional whine of emergency vehicles working their way to various trouble spots. And, oh yes, let's not forget the continual crack, snap, and pop of branches and treetops leaving their rightful places on high and crashing to the ground, or, occasionally, to the roof. Not so "Paxful," at that.

We called SCE&G (South Carolina Electric and Gas)--knowing, full well, that it would only be to let them know a small bit more about the extent of the power outage problem. This was not our first ride on the winter storm express, by any means.

Then, thanks to this reporter's brother's foresight, the "peace" was definitely terminated (in our neighborhood, at least,) when we tried to start that brand new $85 generator he bought us that we placed on our front walkway under the roof's overhang to provide power for the fireplace's heat exchanger blower. Murphy must have gone South for the winter--the darn thing started right up! Hoping it would continue to run for whatever time it might be needed (that $85 was not a typo,) we started a fire and breathed a collective sigh of relief, knowing that, at least for a while, cold would not be our enemy.

The fire started, and the blower on (the generator went uhhh, and then kept on purring,) we gathered together the needed (camping) gear--range, lantern, and battery powered radio--and began to enjoy our slightly modified existence.

When daylight arrived, we joined the neighbors in surveying the damage. All in all, Mimosa Circle was relatively unscathed. We did have a small hole in our roof, but it was quickly patched using some spare flashing material. There were quite a few limbs here and there, though. We all took a bit of time away from our busy schedules to move the limbs out to the street, understanding the City would take care of the debris.

In a couple of days the power had been restored. Some of us had to make repairs to our electric service weather heads before our individual power lines could be reconnected, but that was a relatively minor difficulty that our electrician friends handled with ease. There were quite a few "hangers" in the trees--broken limbs that had caught on other limbs and remained suspended awaiting the opportunity to fall at a moment's notice on whatever happened to be below at the time. Fortunately, there also were quite a few contractors around who were more than happy to assist us with these hazards. Some were even reasonable with their charges. More debris for the piles in the road.

So much for Aiken's winter storm "Pax." We understand it continued to the North to places more accustomed to the delights it brought than were those of us in South Carolina. The generator worked fine, the limbs were taken care of, and life returned to normal, excepting, that is, for the piles of debris.

Mimosa Circle (our neighborhood's street,) like many roads in the City, had gone from a generous two lane ride to a one at-a-time way street. The debris piles were considerably more than the usual "yard wastes" that the City would pick up, along with the garbage, each Tuesday. However, the City had a plan. They would diligently work on the wastes with their clam-bucket loaders and, using every trash collection truck they could lay their hands on, they would eventually prevail. A good plan, apparently. Thursday, the day before yesterday, was Mimosa Circle's day. The trucks came, the piles were transferred from street to truck to one very large (and growing) pile in a field off of Powderhouse Road between Powderhouse and Douglas Drive. On Powderhouse, the field lies between the Autoneum factory on the South and the Carolina Equine Clinic on the North.

Two other debris piles were started and eventually closed due to lack of space. One is at Citizens Park. It is about 300 yards in circumference by four yards deep. Citizens park still is the place for individuals to take debris if they are able. The other pile is on Pine Log Road between a major electrical substation and the Morman Church. It is in front of Churchill Commons Apartments. This pile is about 110 by 85 yards in size and, again, about four yards deep. If you do the math, you will find these two piles contain about 66,000 cubic yards of debris. The newest pile on Powderhouse is probably approaching that amount and it will continue to grow, hopefully until the City's needs from this event are met. According to an article in today's "AikenStandard," City Manager Richard Pierce said City crews were "more than halfway done through their first of three passages through the City." That being the case, the Powderhouse site may be sufficient to the need. That need, projected, will possibly be over a quarter of a million cubic yards of debris--which is considerable (author's calculation.)

Some of the debris deposited in the two older piles has been processed by a wood chipper. Chipping reduces the volume of the waste and leaves a product that may be used in some applications, e.g., as mulch for plant beds.

Now, Milwaukee has a municipal fertilizer product they call "Milorganite," A few years ago it was said Georgia Tech used it on its football fields. Before their games, the coaches always reminded their ball handlers about the Milorganite, which was a by-product of Milwaukee's sewage treatment plant. The Tech runners were hard to catch and even harder to tackle. Wonder why?

Do you suppose the new potato chip factory farm near Windsor might be able to utilize some of Aiken's chips? Who knows, if the price is right, this liability might even become a City asset. Frito Lay would be able to advertise its new environmentally sound "chips for the chips" program (anything for a good cause.) Maybe, just maybe, given the right merchandizing, Aiken could grow a chip business like Milwaukee grew a fertilizer business and, while it will not help out Georgia Tech's running game, it just might help with the City's bottom line. And that, my friend, is a consequence we in Aiken will more than happily accept.

Take a look at the accompanying slide show to get a better understanding of the current debris problem in Aiken. And , as always, thanks for visiting

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