‘It’s a good feeling:’ Florida tree service contractor still helping to clean up flood-ravaged Sanford

SANFORD, MI – When arborist Justin Hartmann traveled to Mid-Michigan from his Florida home, he was hoping for a deal with Midland County to clean up rubble after a May flood disaster.

What he found was one of the most inspiring communities he has ever seen, he said.

Hartmann owns Canary Tree Services in Jacksonville, and his crews have worked in areas across the country that have been hit by natural disasters. When a contractor near Sanford told him about the historic floods in the city, Hartmann loaded up his trailer and set off north.

While waiting for news of an employment contract, Hartmann traveled around Sanford to “help out as much as possible,” he said. He was soon using his specialized equipment to help Sanford residents remove boats and other items from dry lake beds.

Although Canary Tree did not get a contract, Hartmann decided to stay. Working at the bottom of the lake can be dangerous work, Hartmann said, and he knew he had the machines and the expertise to do it safely.

“We got the paperwork and permission to work with cranes and an excavator on the bottom of the lake,” said Hartmann. “It’s absolutely dangerous. There’s all kinds of sharp things down there, there’s mud that’s like quicksand, and boats tipped over to one side could fall over and hurt someone. “

Several local volunteers started working with Hartmann. Bruce Thibodeau, who has 15 years of experience in boat transportation, helped Hartmann find parts for a job, and Thibodeau has since helped Hartmann when needed.

Hartmann estimates that his team rescued 100 to 150 boats from the bottom of the lake within seven weeks. After most of the boats have been removed, Hartmann and his crew move on to tree clearing.

Hartmann agreed to make residents pay what they could for his work, especially for those who had lost their homes and had no insurance.

Hartmann said his previous work at the ministry inspired him to help the Sanford residents as much as possible. After he and his wife decided to start a family, they left the ministry and started his tree-removing company to make money.

“We always said we would return to the ministry after we could pay our bills to the tree removal company,” said Hartmann. “But now we see that we can use our business to help people.”

Despite his zeal, Hartmann said he became concerned a few weeks ago about pressuring his family to stay in Michigan too long. He talked to his wife about returning to Florida and she told him they should stay.

“She said, ‘I want you to be strong and keep your promise to these people because what else are they going to do?’ So I took a few days off to spend with my family and then went back to it, ”he said.

After working across the country in the wake of natural disasters, Hartmann said there was something special and inspiring about the Sanford Township.

“As long as people want me here, I’ll be here,” said Hartmann. “I like this community. It’s amazing how they got together like that. It inspires me and it feels good to be able to stay here. “

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