First The Storm, Now The Woodchips

Nov 16, 2011

Now that the October storm is gone and power is back, there are still trees down across the state.  And as WNPR's Jeff Cohen reports, those trees turn into wood chips, and those wood chips need someplace to go.  I'm standing in front of a ginormous steaming pile of wood chips on the UConn campus in West Hartford. This is where the town of West Hartford is bringing its storm debris to be gathered and chipped before it's brought elsewhere.  But for now, the pile only seems to be growing. "It's a mountain.  It's truly a mountain." That's Town Manager Ron VanWinkle. "And we've only picked up 15 percent of the debris in West Hartford.  I mean we're building a Mount Everest out there.  It's phenomenal." And it's phenomenally hot.  Once the downed limbs and trees are trucked to this site off Asylum Avenue, they're chipped up -- and they start to decompose, like your backyard compost.  Only VanWinkle says that the steam coming off of this pile of rotting wood is enough to cause concern. "You can feel the heat of the pile. In a few days, you'll burn yourself by putting your hand in.  That is spontaneous combustion going on inside from the decomposition.  So if you let that sit, that steam that's rising off, that smoke that's rising off, those things will catch fire eventually." Before they do, VanWinkle is hoping to get rid of them.  In a good market, wood chips be could sold to landscapers or for mulch.  But with so many trees down, this isn't exactly a good market.  Some have suggested they could be turned into pellets or fuel, but VanWinkle says this type of aggregated wood chip isn't right for that use. So the town is hoping to find a farm that will dispose of the chips by tilling them into the soil -- a process that won't add much to the already $7 million price tag the town has for debris removal.  Because this site is full. "We are now doing that, looking for sites where we can dispose of that, and hopefully we find them within a reasonable distance of West Hartford. The farther your truck this, the more expensive it gets." So VanWinkle says this -- if you'd like some wood chips of your own, he'd be glad to deliver them. For WNPR, I'm Jeff Cohen.