Port tree cutters head north to clean up tornado’s mess

Although they have plenty of jobs at home, two business owners dedicate time and equipment to clearing debris left by northern Wisconsin storm

PICTURED WITH HIS remote control tree-cutting rig last year, Mike Melichar of I.M. Tree Removal in Port recently helped clear fallen trees in northern Wisconsin.
By 
JOE POIRIER
Ozaukee Press staff

Two Port Washington landscaping companies are helping victims of a tornado that struck northern Wisconsin earlier this month.

“There’s a lot of damage up here. Some of the branches went through the roof and then through the floor and into the basement,” Mike Melichar of I.M. Tree Removal said of the properties he is working on.  

The National Weather Service confirmed an EF-1 tornado passed through Oneida and Langlade counties with a wind speed estimated at 100 mph on Friday, July 19.

The following day more storms ravaged the area and left residents without power for a week.

JJ Winnemuller, who owns JJ’s Lawn Service, drove four hours to Pickerel on Thursday, July 25, to help a family friend who owns a second home there.

Winnemuller and his employee, Adam Borgenhagen, brought a dump truck, skid loader and an excavator to the area.

“There were pretty close to 75 to 100 trees that came down. They were either uprooted or broke off,” Winnemuller said.

After the job in Pickerel was completed, the two drove to Pelican Lake to join Melichar’s crew of 12 to help Port Washington resident Jim Fedel, who owns a cottage on the lake with his wife Debbie.

“For the first two days we didn’t have any electricity,” Melichar said, noting the crew had to take showers at a campground.

Fedel said Melichar slept in a tent so there would be more room for his crew at Fedel’s residence.

In addition to working without power, they said, the greatest challenge was working in an unfamiliar area.

“The hardest part was not knowing where to go with branches and trees.

The people were extremely helpful and friendly with giving us directions,” Winnemuller said.

Melichar said his crew had worked on 12 homes as of Tuesday, July 30.

He said he is returning home by the end of the week to help at Ozaukee County Fair and will eventually return to Pelican Lake to continue his relief effort.

He is also planning on visiting Clover and Stevens Point, where there is storm damage.

“We’re still up here working on it. There’s so much damage here. We could spend the rest of the year working on the clean up,” Melichar said. “I’m booked for the rest of the year at home to remove ash trees, and I have to talk to my home owners to make sure I don’t make them upset.”

Melichar added he previously helped clear trees after tornados passed through Cascade and Dundee.

Winnemuller returned to Port Saturday night after working on about half-a-dozen properties.

Winnemuller has been in business for 15 years, primarily doing landscape restoration, excavating and stone removal for commercial and residential properties.

He said this was his first project involving tornado damage, and he isn’t opposed to lending a helping hand in the future.

“As long as I know what I’m getting into, I will always want to help someone in need,” he said.

Melichar established his tree-removal business in 2017 and is transitioning to larger jobs that involve 50 to 100 trees.

He said there is a greater demand for logging and has recently added more commercial-style equipment for his operation.

“We’re certainly not like a guy in a bucket truck with a chainsaw,” Melichar said. “We want to get more involved with commercial and state jobs rather than running around cutting trees in people’s backyards.”

The business owners did not ask for compensation for their work during the relief effort, but said residents offered them money to cover their operating costs.

“I wasn’t expecting anything,” Melichar said. “But it was enough to cover the expenses to go up there with the equipment. We just want them to get back to normalcy.”
    Winnemuller agreed.

“It was a pleasure helping people who needed it,” he said. “We always want to prioritize the people who need our help during the worst moments of their lives.”

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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