The decision to remove the trees was made after an arborist compiled a 42-page report on the well-being of the trees in Historic Downtown Madison.

Archived Story

Downtown tree removal leaves residents wanting answers

Published 10:22pm Thursday, April 14, 2011

Many residents have been wondering what happened to the trees in Historic Downtown Madison. The topic has become somewhat controversial and has some residents asking why they had to be removed.

Phil Bergstresser is one of those residents.

“It is a big disappointment to many of us who have lived here in Madison a long time to see such apparent vandalism of mature trees,” Bergstresser said. “Some local official probably has a good excuse, but we would have liked to have been informed before it happened in time to object. It may even have been discussed at a city council meeting, but we were unaware of it until it happened.”

Sherri Blair, historic district planner and zoning administrator, said notices were not sent individually to property owners, but an announcement of the Main Street Renovation project was made using “typical notification medium.”

The Main Street Renovation, which is one of the city’s capital improvement projects, will “greatly improve accessibility and aesthetics and give a much needed facelift to the Historic District” according to the plan’s goal.

The renovation will include adding underground utilities and improving drainage, spaces for additional on-street parking, new landscaping and streetlights.

“The many improvements will create a more pedestrian-friendly environment and make it much easier for shoppers and families to access the area’s shops and restaurants,” Blair said. “In order to perform the numerous and varied renovations, it was necessary to remove existing trees.”

The city announced plans to revitalize the downtown area in July 2010. The plan included streetscape improvements, upgrading sidewalks, creating easy access to shops and restaurants and allowing two-way traffic on Wise Street.

In October 2010, before making a decision about removing the trees, the city hired former Huntsville City arborist Chuck Weber to estimate their current condition.

Weber prepared a 42-page report, which concluded that while some of the trees were in good condition, many had structural and health problems that limited their long-range serviceability. One of the main reasons both the city and Weber said the trees needed to be removed was because the construction process would severely damage the tree’s root systems.

“People think tree roots grow straight down into the ground, but in general they don’t,” Weber said. “Tree roots need free oxygen in the soil in order to grow, so most roots extend horizontally, often well beyond the branch tips, in the top twelve to 18 inches of soil, and they are very vulnerable to construction damage.”

“It’s generally not good for a tree to have damaged roots, but it’s most critical when you get within 10-15 feet of the base of the tree.”

He said another contributing factor was the result of poor pruning practices over the years in order to provide clearance for power lines.

“Utility clearance pruning has improved tremendously in the past 20 years or so,” he said. “But when power lines are very close to a tree, there’s often no way to get the needed clearance and still use pruning methods that work with its natural defenses against decay.”

According to the revitalization plan, new trees will be planted after road and utility improvements are completed. Phase 1 of this project is set to be completed by September 2011.

“The city was sad to see the large, beautiful trees removed but we are confident the new streetscape will make all the residents of Madison proud,” Blair said.

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