Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Port City Proud cutting trees free of charge amid complaints of price gouging

After hearing about a neighbor in need, two friends pitched in to help. That turned into a new organization, trying to help the region recover and get out from under thousands of trees.

WILMINGTON — A group of tattooed builders and carpenters have formed a group called Port City Proud in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, sending teams of volunteers throughout the city to cut trees from people’s properties free of charge.

The movement is gaining momentum — it sent out 50 volunteers over the weekend, just four days after launching its social media and GoFundMe pages — amid rumors that some out-of-state tree removal companies are charging exorbitant prices for their services.

Port City General Construction owner Chris Leonard said that widespread price gouging is taking place in Wilmington as tree removal companies from states like Georgia, Texas, Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin take advantage of a city in recovery mode because “they’ll never have to show their faces here again.”

“I’ve bid prices on roofs at three grand,” Leonard said, “and there’s other companies that are bidding at ten to eleven thousand dollars.”

He saw one bid worth $16,000. Even if these bids are covered by insurance, Leonard said, clients will face skyrocketing deductibles at prices that high.

Meanwhile, Port City Proud is calling on volunteers to keep up with a rising demand for their services around the city.

It all began when friends Tegan Harmon and Drew Salley cleared a tree that had fallen on a power line, then cut off a tree that had fallen on Salley’s roof.

“Next day, we had a couple drinks, talked it over, and said, ‘Let’s go cut out some roads. Cuttin’ down trees is fun as hell,'” Harmon said.

A neighbor donated a 40-foot boom forklift with an attached bucket and over the four days after the storm passed, Harmon, Salley, and a close-knit group of friends removed trees from roads and punctured roofs in the Seagate neighborhood.

“We went back to the Triangle (Lounge) — our spot — and thought we were done at that point,” Salley said. “When we found out another friend of ours had a tree on his house that punctured it, we threw our drinks down, got some people from the bar, and went over there and cleared it out.”

On social media they began posting that they were available to remove trees from punctured roofs. After numerous requests to pay for their services, Harmon said he had a light-bulb moment.

“We were having some drinks — most of our good ideas come from drinks — and we were like, ‘Dude, let’s take the money,'” Harmon said.

They launched a GoFundMe account last Friday night, all donations funneled to flood victims in surrounding counties through Wrightsville Beach-based charity Hope from Helen, and within four days had raised over $9,000.

Now their focus has shifted from individual houses to entire neighborhoods. Each morning the group meets at Wrightsville Beach Brewery then disperses teams throughout the city.

On Monday the group of friends responded to a call from a woman who was out of town, complaining that her father was sweeping the driveway while holding on to his walker. Harmon and Salley told Sheri Ray, a retired schoolteacher, that they’d be back in the morning to clear her tree.

“This is God-sent, that’s the only way I can put it,” said Ray.

Ray said that insurance wouldn’t cover the removal of a tree from her property because it hadn’t fallen on her house.

After a long day of work the crew gathered at Jimmy’s bar in Wrightsville Beach Monday night. Harmon’s phone chimed every few minutes with a new Facebook request to clear a tree as he talked about expanding his group’s activities in the coming weeks.

He said none of their work would be possible without the behind-the-scenes work from his and Salley’s spouses, Jess and Ellen, who were manning the social media pages, organizing and assigning tasks to a growing pool of volunteers, and taking shifts looking after each others’ kids.

“It’s only day four, good Lord, so who knows? We need more volunteers to help out,” Harmon said.

To sign up as a volunteer or to request a yard clean-up, go to their website, portcityproud.org.

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