By Charles Sercombe
Jan Gratkowski has lived on the corner of Casmere and Moran for over 20 years, under the shade of a huge tree.
It survived the tornado of 1997 that swept through town and toppled about 500 trees.
But this 100-something-year-old tree won’t survive this summer’s sidewalk repair program.
It has a red “X” on it – meaning it’s marked to be cut down. In fact, at the time this paper went to print, it might have already been removed.
“I think it’s a shame they have to cut down all our trees,” Gratkowski said.
The “they” Gratkowski referenced is the city, as in the city administration.
Acting City Attorney Kyle Tertzag said about 35 to 40 tall trees have to come down because they have lifted up dozens of sidewalks slabs, which in turn have caused dozens and dozens of trip and fall lawsuits filed against the city.
So, the trees have to come down.
“It’s a shame we have to do this,” Tertzag said.“I’m very cognizant of the environmental impact of losing a decent amount of trees.”
But his hands are tied.
The city has been sued so many times that its insurance deductable is so high it’s to the point where the city has practically no insurance coverage at all.
Tertzag said past city planners didn’t think things through and allowed trees that grew too big to be planted in the space between the curb and the sidewalk. That has resulted in slabs being lifted up by tree roots, and that is an accident waiting to happen for anyone walking or biking down sidewalks.
“Unfortunately, for one reason or another some of the trees on the easement are too big for that space,” Tertzag said.
There could be an alternative, but that would require everyone wrapping their collective head around a very radical sounding idea.
That idea came from Ron Dawson who lives above Jan Gratkowski. He suggested looking up a website called: www.saveourlandsaveourtowns.org/pdfs/trees/
Yes, that’s a mouthful, but in that site you can read what some communities are doing to address giant tree roots that heave up sidewalks.
Those communities are turning to pouring asphalt ribbons instead of concrete slabs.
The asphalt, the organization says, can better withstand the force of roots because the material is not poured in slabs.
It’s been done in Europe.
However, there is a green side to what’s happening to the city.
Tertzag said the trees that come down will be replaced with new trees, but ones that won’t grow so large.
Still, a bunch of big canopy trees are coming down. And Ron Dawson echoed Joyce Kilmer’s famous ode to trees when he said:
“It’s a shame to cut down something so beautiful,” Dawson said.
Or as Kilmer said: “I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree.”