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Volunteer group tackles homeowner’s tree problem

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Sid Reddy, Los Angeles, left, trims a dead tree limb that was hanging over a building and walkway Saturday in the backyard of Sandra Johnson’s home as Hayley Albers, Fort Collins, Colorado, watches. (Juno Ogle Photo)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

The sounds of chainsaws and cracking tree limbs rang across the neighborhood around North Lea Avenue on Saturday morning as members of a national volunteer organization gathered to help a local homeowner in need.

Kelly Wilder, Albuquerque, adds to the pile of tree limbs outside the Lea Avenue home of Sandra Johnson as she and other volunteers with Team Rubicon worked Saturday morning to remove a tree that damaged Johnson’s home in a recent storm as well as other dangerous trees on the property. (Juno Ogle Photo)

Sandra Johnson has lived at her home in the 1300 block of North Lea Avenue for about 12 years, she said. The adobe fence and walls of the home as well as the rustic wood shake shingles draw comparisons to a hobbit house from J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy novels “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit.”

The property also contains a number of trees, but several of them pose a danger to the house and the public. A recent wind storm blew large limbs from a tree in the backyard onto the house, penetrating the roof. Dead limbs on trees in front of the house also pose a danger to those passing by.

“It has what we call widow-makers,” Doug Keaty, Albuquerque, said, looking at one of the trees in front. Two large limbs had broken off at some point and were balanced on another limb. “All it takes is a wind and they’ll fall and they could kill someone.”

To remove those trees alone would be a $10,000 to $15,000 job with a commercial tree removal company, Keaty estimated, much more than Johnson, the widow of a Vietnam veteran, could afford.

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So Keaty and five other volunteers with Team Rubicon, a California-based nonprofit disaster response organization, came to Roswell to help. One of Johnson’s daughters, Sue Johnson of Fort Collins, Colorado, was one of the team members.

“We’ve been trying to get this done since the day she moved in,” Sue Johnson said of clearing the trees. She said the family had gotten quotes as high as $65,000.

Her sister Angela Moreno and husband, Robert, also worked on trimming limbs and the cleanup Saturday.

Team Rubicon was founded in 2010 in response to the 7.0 earthquake in Haiti. About 70% of the organization’s 270,000 volunteers are former military, Keaty said. They deploy around the world to assist cleanup and recovery efforts after natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes and earthquakes, or in other emergencies.

“We have responses going on right now because of the flooding in Tennessee. Hurricane Ida we’re still working. Now we have fresh flooding in Texas. So we have people dispatching immediately,” he said.

Teams help clear debris for first responders to be able to help people, then focus on helping clear property, he said.

The organization has also begun providing assistance in giving COVID-19 vaccines on the Navajo Nation and working with Afghan refugees that come to the U.S.

But they also take on smaller jobs, such as helping clear dangerous trees from Johnson’s home.

“Because of her veteran status, we were requested and it works for us. It’s a service project for us versus a response to a tornado or hurricane,” he said.

They called the operation “Alien Tree Removal.”

The work they did was a great relief, Johnson said as she watched the volunteers trimming dead branches hanging over a pathway and a building in the backyard.

The volunteers felled a tree growing along the backyard fence, cut down another growing in a small enclosed garden area and trimmed a mostly dead tree back to the stump, as well as removing the limbs from Johnson’s roof and removing more limbs from the tree they had fallen from.

Team Rubicon volunteers had been in Roswell this summer after a 100-year rainstorm on May 30 caused West Orchard Park and parts of south Roswell to flood. It was then they met Enrique Moreno, director of Roswell Community Disaster Relief Services. Moreno helped the team on this project by taking photos of the property so they could make plans and helped with logistics such as lodging.

Moreno also helped arrange, with City Councilor Barry Foster, to have a city grappler truck pick up the piles of tree limbs from in front of the house and the alley and waive the dumping fees for Johnson.

Two large trees in the front of the property, including the one with the “widow-maker” limbs, will be removed by the city as well, Keaty said, because of the greater danger and liability and also because they are located in the city right-of-way.

“It’s been great working with the city and we’re excited that they’re going to come out and get these trees down because they are dangerous,” Keaty said.

The First United Methodist Church helped provide rooms for the volunteers and offered the church kitchen for their use. But otherwise, the team members traveled to Roswell at their own expense. Keaty, Kelly Wilder and Dan Bourne came from Albuquerque. Hayley Albers traveled from Fort Collins and Sid Reddy from Los Angeles.

Not all of the volunteers Saturday were former military. Bourne said he was “happily unemployed” after 22 years as a firefighter. Wilder had been a teacher. Keaty is a contractor and EMT.

Moreno said the work of Team Rubicon was greatly appreciated, both for what they did for Johnson and after the local flooding this summer. He said the volunteers made an effort to work with local groups like his in both instances.

“It’s pretty great to know that a national group like this, as big as they are, takes into consideration small local groups like ours for help and advice,” he said. “I don’t have the capacity of doing what they can do, but it helps them with what I can do with assistance.”

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.

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