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Debate over trees in city continues

Photo courtesy of Marietta City Administration Recent private riverbank clearing has drawn heat from the city tree commission in Marietta.

Balancing the concerns of volunteer specialists, city residents and short-staffed city labor have city administration and council looking to creative solutions concerning urban trees.

“There are urban forest issues, and we understand the ecological benefits of having trees,” said Assistant Safety-Service Director Bill Dauber Tuesday. “But we also face past placement of trees that were inappropriate for the available management or which have become a safety risk.”

Recently, tensions have run high in a series of emails between city tree commission members (all volunteer appointments), Urban Forester Ann Bonner (representing the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry) and city officials.

Bonner called for the reassignment, or firing of city personnel for damage to trees as pointed out by retired councilman Roger Kalter.

“The city mowing crew has been debarking a lot of trees, and that shortens their life, or if you get all the way around them, it can kill them,” said Tree Commission Member Grady Smith. “Anytime you take off bark like that you open up a wound where pathogens can get in. Last summer we lost two newly planted sycamores and saw damage to many more trees in East Muskingum park because of mowing along the (River) Trail.”

Other threats were made in recent weeks to push for legal action against private residents after recent riverbank clearing on the west side of the Muskingum River bank in front of Fort Street homes.

“I did go out and see that clearing,” said Smith. “In the past, the residents there would cut off new sprouts by hand, but this time as we all get older they paid to have it done and really, it made it look worse than it really was.”

But Smith still holds fast to the need for foliage and root systems within a riverbank to protect city lands from erosion.

“And there are people who think it’s their God-given right to have a clear view of the river from their condos and houses across the street from the water. But that’s not their property,” said Smith.

The balancing act continues, with both administrative plans to refine operational direction and city council plans to create partnerships through Enrich Marietta for future bank stabilization.

“There’s not a cut and dry decision every time,” said Dauber. “And I think a lot of time there are different biases between those who take great care to know about the life of trees, to property owners, to city liability that have to be weighed.”

Dauber said he is currently working toward an operational study with city facilities crews to understand the times needed to complete maintenance and care of the city parks and cemeteries.

“There are complaints on how our public facilities are lawn mowing, and I have heard the tree commission’s concerns,” said Dauber. “I have asked them to produce a safe-practices mowing-in-proximity-to-trees guide so that I can add that into our operational plan and we can have those quality conversations with our staff.”

Meanwhile, Geoff Schenkel, council’s Planning, Zoning, Annexation and Housing Committee chairman, is also working with Enrich Marietta and a riverbanks subcommittee to plan out partnerships between volunteer organizations, potentially private contracts and city laborforce to maintain greenspaces within city limits and along city riverbanks.

“There are a lot of people who care about this and to some degree it seems to be an agreement on the ideas of ‘windows’ to preserve views of our rivers. From talking with lots of people it appears to me that there’s a good chance that plant and tree selection can achieve erosion control, habitat preservation and increase pollination, while preserving the beautiful views.” said Schenkel. “The knowledge is here, if we can work together I don’t see why we can’t all win.”

Enrich is currently meeting twice per month on that planning and development effort.

Marietta Tree Commission will next meet at 4:15 p.m. Tuesday in the third-floor conference room of 304 Putnam St.

Janelle Patterson can be reached at jpatterson@mariettatimes.com.

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