Fallen D.C.-owned tree obstructed cleanup for homeowners

Dick Uliano, wtop.com

WASHINGTON – Superstorm Sandy toppled a soaring willow oak tree Monday night onto a two-story stucco house in northwest D.C., punching four holes in the roof.

The homeowners, retired federal government workers Dan and Jay Etta Hecker, were eager to see the tree removed so they could begin repair work on their house. But they could not move ahead with plans because the 80-foot tree, which had graced the curb of their street on the western edge of Cleveland Park, was D.C. property.

The tree caused extensive damage to a portion of the house’s second floor, and water was leaking into the house.

“This is still dripping – this is what we’re collecting every day,” Jay Etta complained, pointing to several plastic tubs strategically placed in her second-story study and bedroom.

The Heckers say city officials could not say when the tree would be removed – only that their names would be placed on a list for removal work.

John Lisle, spokesman for the District of Columbia Department of Transportation, says the city had 600 requests for tree-related work. He adds that the Heckers were told the city was prepared to remove the tree on Tuesday – something the Heckers deny.

“We just want to have this tree removed and protect this property from further damage,” says the Hecker’s insurance adjuster Dawn Myers, who has dealt with the aftermath of hurricanes Irene and Katrina.

On Wednesday, Myers called the DC Department of Transportation, which is responsible for street-side trees, and offered to have her company USAA pay a private company to remove the tree. But Myers says the private company wanted the city to provide in writing the rights to remove the tree, and city officials declined.

“Somebody’s offering the city a valuable service for free and they are refusing to accept,” Dan says.

A few hours after WTOP aired the Hecker’s story on the radio Wednesday, the city dispatched to the Hecker’s home a tree removal crew equipped with a crane, wood chipper and truck to haul away the debris.

“This is fantastic,” says Jay Etta as the trucks rolled up to her home. “We can finally stem the damage because every minute it was getting worse.”

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