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Mark Gorbett had one of those deja vu moments Monday morning.
He could look across the street from the Bartholomew County Jail into the City Hall parking lot, where workers were using chain saws to cut linden trees down to their stumps. Moments after his observation, Bartholomew County’s sheriff was on the phone to the newspaper reporting the developments.
“It made me think about our trees,” he observed with a laugh. “I just wonder if the city is going to get the response we did.”
He was referring to a reaction to a decision made five years ago to remove a string of trees lining the Second Street right-of-way in front of the jail.
He began hearing about it before the tree removal people could dig out the stumps that were left behind. Admittedly, it was a pretty gruesome sight. Even the sheriff’s fellow Republican, County Commissioner Larry Kleinhenz, described the resulting scene as “ugly.”
Next came several letters to the editor of The Republic, many pointing out that the removal of the trees spoiled the boulevard effect of the trees.
At the time, the sheriff pointed out that the trees were to be replaced — only in a different setting. There were a number of factors behind the repositioning strategy. One was that the trees in the right-of-way created sight line problems for motorists who might not have been able to see pedestrians crossing Second Street between the jail and the county parking lot.
The sheriff thought that his remedy of replacement was a reasonable one. He simply moved the location for the trees away from the street and closer to the jail building. That didn’t satisfy a lot of tree huggers who thought the trees were just fine where they were originally situated.
I’m not sure what, if any, reaction the removal of the City Hall trees will generate. For one thing, the circumstances are a little different. According to City Hall spokesman Chris Schilling, the tree removal is a multiphase project that will be completed sometime next year.
Phase 1 involves the removal of 28 trees from the parking lot south of the building set aside for the public. The remainder of the trees on the east and south side will be taken out next year.
“It’s being done primarily for safety reasons,” Schilling said. “A few of the trees were dead or had serious rot problems. There was a concern that branches could fall onto people.”
Ironically, the dead tree issue is hitting pretty close to home as far as The Republic is concerned. Wednesday morning, crews were at work removing three dying trees from the newspaper’s property along Washington Street near First Street. These were of the honey locust variety and had the same problems as their neighbors in the City Hall parking lot. All three will be replaced.
The City Hall parking lot trees are obviously not as visible as the jail’s Second Street trees, and they will also be replaced with new trees planted where the original ones had been located.
“The replacement can begin as early as next week,” Schilling said.
Those replacements will be more “urban friendly,” to borrow a phrase from tree species parlance. Unlike the small-leaf linden trees, the two varieties of oak trees will be more narrow and sustainable.
Still, the scene in the City Hall parking lot this week is pretty ugly. It also serves as a reminder of the importance folks around here place on their trees.
It was only a couple of months ago that Hope resident Alise Pate became a champion for the catalpa trees in the town square, questioning a recommendation by town officials to remove the trees because they had been severely damaged by lightning in the past and posed a threat to safety. There was also some unhappiness with the mess created by the pods that fell from the trees.
Alise suggested that the town get an expert opinion from an arborist. The town board agreed, and the expert, while acknowledging some previous damage, suggested that the trees were healthy enough to retain, a recommendation that was followed by the council.
Although the affinity for trees is widespread throughout the county, there have been some varieties planted for their decorative value that were out and out mistakes.
After all, who can forget the hundreds of weeping willow trees that were planted along Jonathan Moore Pike as a celebration of the country’s bicentennial in 1976. By 1999 they were all dead.
Then there were the infamous Bradford pears that lined downtown Washington Street in the 1980s. They did, indeed, present a beautiful sight, especially when blooming in the spring and changing colors in the fall, but they had a poor limb structure and were inclined to split upon reaching a certain size.
Despite the worries of being bonked in the head by a falling limb, a lot of folks took angry exception to their removal as part of the Streetscape project in the 1990s, suspecting Bob Stewart’s administration of a plot to defoliate the downtown.
Even after new trees were put in place of the old ones, resentment continued to stew and was settled only after the new trees demonstrated the same blossoming and color-changing effects years later.
On a smaller scale there was that so-called “treaty tree” near Rocky Ford and Taylor roads that stood precariously near the area where Taylor Road was to be extended back in 1990. One local woman maintained that the tree had historic value and that it got the name from the fact that a treaty had been signed under its branches in the early 19th century, thus making it a protected species.
No one could ever determine whether a treaty was signed beneath it, but the claim to protected status was rendered moot when one of its rotted branches fell upon a passing car. Needless to say, the rest of the tree was removed days later.
Some officials have learned to take preemptive action when it comes to tree removal on public property. Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. officials took that approach back in 2006 when it was determined that several of the trees in front of Columbus North High School had to be removed.
Before a single branch was touched by a saw, school officials issued news releases reporting on the planned removal and promised that the old trees would be replaced with new ones.
The public response was somewhat muted. Some say the lack of an outcry was due to the early notice. Others, however, contend that no one liked the original trees all that much anyway.
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