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Newport News removes dozens of drastically pruned ‘Dr. Seuss trees’

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http://touch.dailypress.com/#section/-1/article/p2p-76747319/

Newport News removes dozens of drastically pruned ‘Dr. Seuss trees’

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MAP: Streets where Newport News removed pruned trees

By Cathy Grimes, cgrimes | (757) 247-4758

July 22, 2013

NEWPORT NEWS — Mature oaks, maples and sweet gums line neighborhood streets throughout Newport News, providing shade and a leafy canopy. But their picturesque ranks are punctuated by trees pruned by Dominion Power into odd shapes to avoid utility lines.

Some of the trimmed trees look like illustrations in a Dr. Seuss book, but many more are unsightly, carved into crescents, U-shapes and topknots with power lines running through the gaps and open spaces.

The city recently removed about 65 of the pruned trees as part of its community maintenance initiative. Assistant City Manager Cynthia Rohlf said the city pulled trees from rights of way on Orcutt, Roanoke and Wickham avenues and on 35th Street.

“We had a five or six block area where Dr. Seuss trees were,” said Rohlf. “We started with some of the worst offenders.”

Pruned for power

Dominion Power crews prune trees that grow up into power lines to remove potential hazards such as tree branches, said Bonita Billingsley Harris, a spokeswoman for Dominion Power. The trees the city removed had been pruned more than once.

Rohlf said Dominion Power crews focus on clearing lines, not aesthetics, so the results often are odd shapes or gaps in the tree, or the loss of the main trunk.

“All they are worried about is the lines and they will tell you that,” she said.

Rohlf said city staff started talking about removing the drastically pruned trees a year ago while discussing ways to improve the appearance of neighborhoods. Residents’ complaints spurred some of the discussion. At the same time, Dominion Power was scheduled to visit the Southeast neighborhoods and trim trees. Rohlf said city staff suggested partnering with Dominion Power.

Harris said the power company was happy to cut down the selected trees, some of which were dead.

“It actually saves us money in the long term,” she said.

Shorter trees to follow

Parks and Recreation Department staff removed the stumps, clearing the rights of way in which they had been planted. Newport News landscape planner Flora Chioros said the city is not leaving bare holes in the landscape. Chioros said staff will fill in the gaps with more than 150 smaller ones that will not grow tall enough to interfere with the power lines.

“We didn’t want to start something and not replace them,” she said.

Chioros said she did not know what to expect when city staff talked with residents, business owners and church pastors along the streets slated to lose trees. She and Rohlf noted that while the trees are public, homeowners and businesses often feel a sense of ownership toward them. But “most were happy to have the ugly trees removed,” she said.

In the end the city left two trees untouched, one of which was below the power lines and the other had been pruned for safety.

“What people wanted to know was, are you replacing them,” she said.

The city will plant new trees in the fall, using a variety of species, such as amur maple, serviceberry, crepe myrtle, redbud and others that thrive in urban areas and will not grow into the power lines.

“We will space them out,” Rohlf said. “We have been talking with residents about where to put them.”

An urban canopy

One of the concerns Rohlf and others had was removing the trees when the city was likely to have a hot summer. Even Dr. Seuss trees provide some shade, she said. Staff from the city codes department went door to door to let people know the trees would be gone, but new ones would be planted in autumn. Chioros said city staff also told residents they could plant oaks, maples and other large trees on their own property to replace the canopy, as long as the trees were clear of the power lines.

Rohlf said the city is working with several partners in pursuit of funding to help cover the cost of replacing the trees. The city received a grant from the U.S. Forest Service’s Urban Tree Canopy assessment program. The grant will provide technical assistance to map all the trees in the city, using a GIS system. The city also is talking with CSX about its Trees for Tracks program.

“They may help with replacement trees,” Rohlf said.

Replacing the severely pruned trees with a greater number of smaller trees also helps the city’s plant diversity. “It fits in with the environmental sustainability,” Rohlf said.

While the tree replacement project has focused on a section of the Southeast community, Chioros and Rohlf said the city plans to extend it to other areas.

“We hit the corridors. We didn’t hit the numbered streets,” said Chioros. “We chose to focus on three or four streets to start.”

She and Rohlf said there are plenty of drastically pruned trees in Denbigh, Huntington Heights and other neighborhoods that the city eventually will remove and replace.

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Written by vaphc

July 22, 2013 at 2:27 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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