Budget, plan to clear debris, rescue trees

Courtesy of The Miami Herald
Sunday, September 4, 2005

Consider Hurricane Katrina a reminder for community associations to maintain reserves for emergencies: Even a weak hurricane can cost thousands of dollars for condo and homeowner associations to pick up debris.

Replacing destroyed landscaping is even more expensive.

Indeed, saving for landscaping should be part of the hurricane preparation plans for all community associations.

And the plans should include emergency preparations to act quickly to save toppled trees. Associations can save thousands of dollars if they quickly rescue downed trees.

Take that as a lesson from last year's Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne.

Century Village in West Palm Beach managed to save more than half of the hundreds of trees that toppled last year after both hurricanes hit the community, says Dan Gladstone, a volunteer at the retiree community.

''We discovered they were bent down -- and still alive,'' he says.


But nearly a year after the two hurricanes' damage, other condo and homeowners associations are still struggling to replace fallen trees and other destroyed landscaping, says Jan Bergemann, president of Cyber Citizens for Justice, www.ccfj.net, a statewide grass-roots group.

''This is a big problem, particularly for many communities that have bigger common areas -- and plenty of trees,'' he says.

Just ask Jonathan Dwork of Boynton Beach.

His elderly father's home used to look out on scores of stately ficus trees on common grounds at the Aberdeen Golf and Country Club just outside of Boynton Beach's city limits.

In one swoop, Jeanne or her companion tornadoes toppled most of them.

They ended up being chopped down and hauled away as debris.

Now, ''it is so barren,'' Dwork says.

The trees haven't been replaced because the homeowner association isn't sure how much new landscaping it will do. The reason, Dwork says, is cost.

''It's going to be expensive to replace those trees and to come up with new landscaping plans,'' he says, adding, "It's an incredibly huge problem. At some point they're going to have to have a special assessment.''

However, some associations may be able to save toppled trees -- although some, such as ficus, may not be worth it because they will likely go down again in another storm, says Henry Mayer, an agent for urban commercial horticulture at the University of Florida/Miami-Dade Extension Office.

But, he says, "if I have a good tree specimen, I would try to save it.''

The key, he says, is to immediately water the downed trees' exposed roots, stake the tree with 2-by-4s, water the tree thoroughly and surround it with mulch.

''You need to water often the first month,'' he says.

The community association should hire a certified arborist to determine which trees should be saved, adds Mike Orfanedes, commercial horticulture agent with the Broward County Extension Education Division.

Rescuing trees can save thousands of dollars since many cities require community associations to replace fallen trees, Orfanedes says.

Many residents also want new trees to keep their neighborhood attractive and homey.

That's why the Cyber Citizens group recommends communities set aside savings for emergencies.

While people may balk at paying at extra $10 or $20 a month, that beats being hit with a special assessment for hundreds of dollars or more, Bergemann says.

Donna D. Berger, vice president of a homeowners association in a gated Plantation community, was glad her board had reserves.


Last year, the community had to come up with more than $3,000 just to clean up after Jeanne.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reimburses cities to pick up hurricane debris -- but not in gated communities, says Berger, who is also executive director of Community Association Leader Lobby (CALL), a nonprofit advocacy group.

''They told us we are responsible for our own debris,'' she says. "We even offered to remove our gates so they could get in but they said no -- you are responsible.

"We had to pay for it. We took it from a general reserve fund.''

Residents take for granted, she adds, that debris will be automatically picked up in their private communities after a hurricane. What they don't realize is how expensive it can be.

Even tree limbs broken in a weak hurricane can cost thousands of dollars to cart away, she says. Condo and homeowner associations have to be prepared to foot the cost, she says.

''It's a big issue,'' she adds.