Over the objections of nearby residents who have pushed the county to reroute a planned road renovation to minimize tree impact, Ramsey County has began removing the first of some 160 trees expected to come down along a mile of Cleveland Avenue in St. Paul.
From buckthorn and box elder “weed” trees to grand old oaks, the trees are diverse. Some are said to be as ancient as Minnesota itself, perhaps not older.
On Tuesday, the initial tree removal spanned several blocks between Como and Buford avenues. Construction will last through the end of the year, then restart in 2023 between Buford and Larpenteur avenues, at the St. Paul-Falcon Heights border. The effort was originally estimated to remove no more than 55 trees, but the number increased during the course of the epidemic.
“I’m really sad and pretty upset,” Margot Monson, a longtime resident of the region, said through tears. “There are so many enraged individuals in this area.”
Officials from the county say they’ve worked closely with the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus and private property owners, but road and utility upgrades necessitate the removal of a large number of trees from the boulevard between Como and Larpenteur avenues.
Residents encouraged the county to rethink a grove of 26 “priority trees” nominated by the St. Anthony Park Community Council in the days leading up to Tuesday’s tree removal.
In a recent email, Allison Winters, a Ramsey County spokesman, wrote, “The project team did an additional review.” Four trees between Knapp and Scudder streets will likely be saved by modifying building methods, lining a sewage connection rather than removing it entirely, and other tempered measures. Another tree was not cut down on Tuesday, although it may need to be cut down at some point in the future.
“We’re currently investigating a trenchless sewer line solution with the property owner that would allow the tree to stay,” Winters said. “The project team evaluated which trees might safely remain in place tree by tree.”
The county has upped the amount of boulevard trees that will be replaced from 55 to 70 in response to community complaints.
Property owners marched down Cleveland Avenue in a sort of funeral procession on Saturday. A local spent the weekend, one by one, putting hands on each stricken tree and saying farewell.
Once renovated, Cleveland Avenue will have unprotected in-street bike lanes on both sides of the roadway, as well as a multi-use asphalt path, or “slow route,” separated from the east side of the street by a landscape boulevard for bike commuters.
According to Ramsey County, the multi-use route resulted in the removal of 71 trees from the University of Minnesota’s land.
Officials from the county have stressed that sanitary sewage, storm water, and other utility replacements would also have an impact, and that the overall tree loss cannot be put only on bike lanes.
Monson, who lives near Cleveland Avenue, said the University of Minnesota has done nothing to help locals voice their dissatisfaction with the tree removal. She claimed one of the trees cut down Tuesday was a huge oak that was “certainly over 150 years old” and possibly one of the largest oaks on the St. Paul campus.
On Tuesday, Monson stated, “We were shocked that the UMN was not especially compassionate and merely informed us that they will replant.” “It seems totally irresponsible for an agricultural college to discount the worth of healthy older trees, this one easily over 150 years old, especially with the growing weather extremes brought on by climate change.”
In a written statement, Tom Ritzer, the university’s associate director of land care in facilities management, indicated that 38 trees on campus will be affected. “The university does not take tree removal lightly, and we’ve worked together with Ramsey County… to carefully examine which of our trees must be destroyed and which may be maintained using cautious building procedures,” he added.
More than 170 Cleveland Avenue homeowners signed a petition to the state’s Environmental Quality Board on Monday, requesting a state environmental evaluation of tree removal’s possible implications.
According to the request for a formal Environmental Assessment Worksheet, the road reconstruction “will have a variety of significant environmental effects,” including negative effects on bird and endangered bumble bee habitat, air quality, stormwater runoff, temperature control, and “visual and historical resources along Cleveland Avenue.”
They also highlighted a 1997 assessment that suggested the St. Paul campus’ grass area would be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
Tree removal began in earnest on Tuesday morning.