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Residents mourn Walnut St. trees

When a wind storm swept through downtown Farmington during the city celebration a couple of years ago, Tim Dougherty had a feeling he'd lost one of the trees in his yard. When he came home that day, his suspicions were confirmed.

But when the trees in his neighborhood disappeared last week ... well, that came as a bit of a surprise.

Dougherty and his wife, Kelly, live along Walnut Street, where many of the boulevard trees were cut down and are being torn out as part of the reconstruction project that started last week.

"I drove home, and every tree on our block was taken down," Dougherty said.

Dougherty and his neighbors figured the area would lose a few trees due to the construction. A letter from the city of Farmington about the project said as much: "Tree removal necessary for the construction will begin on the entire project on April 1."

But Dougherty didn't think "necessary" meant "all." And for the section of Walnut Street between Fourth and Fifth streets, all but one tree was removed last week.

Farmington's city engineer Kevin Schorzman said the city doesn't have any kind of policy that endorses removing all the trees in a project area. During last year's Spruce Street reconstruction, many of the boulevard trees in that area were not touched.

When it comes to tree removal for projects like this, the city compares each tree's location in relation to the project map. The trees that would interfere with the project are removed.

Emotional attachment

Dougherty and his neighbors had a few stories to share the afternoon when the trees came down. Some of his neighbors have lived in their homes for generations. One neighbor reported planting the tree in front of his home with his father when he was still a boy. Another neighbor had lived in his home for more than 60 years, and the trees out front had always been there.

But so has much of the infrastructure that is being replaced, and that, Schorzman said, is what guided the decision to remove many of those trees.

Some of the sewer pipe in the Walnut Street project is about 54 inches in diameter. Other parts of the project go as high as eight feet in diameter. And that doesn't account for the extra space that needs to be dug out for getting the old infrastructure out and replacing it with new.

Schorzman knows a lot of the trees along the boulevard were established. They were big, beautiful trees with nice, large shade cover.

But those trees, particularly the ones with the large shade cover, had very deep, established root systems. The extent of a tree's root system can be determined by the branch spread, meaning if the branches are far-reaching, so are the roots. And if those branches spread over the area where the infrastructure is going to be replaced, that meant the trees would be permanently damaged.

"At this point, the trees would have died or they would lose the strength to stay up in the wind," Schorzman said. "This is always traumatic for people, but you can't imagine the complaints we'd get if it died and blew over on somebody's house or car."

The trees were all marked and removed on the same day. Initially, that made Dougherty wonder if he was in the right neighborhood when he came home. Later, it just made him wonder why the city didn't tell residents the trees were being removed.

"We never got a chance to talk to the city about it. I understand a tree might come down here or there, but every one?" he asked.

Schorzman said the city wasn't trying to keep the removal a secret or anything, though. It was more a matter of making sure they were only going to remove the trees that had to go, he said.

"We've had problems in the past, with people removing the marks, or kids getting spray paint out and marking trees we don't want to take down," he said.

When the project is complete, many of the trees along Walnut Street will be replaced with smaller trees, Schorzman said. That's in accordance with a city policy that stipulates trees are replaced on collector streets - busy streets like Walnut or Spruce - but not on side streets, like Fifth Street.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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