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City works towards compromise on Barton Springs trees

Friday, May 22, 2009 by Jacob Cottingham

After hearing from citizens concerned about the fate of the Barton Springs trees, and having taken several tours of those marked for possible removal, on Monday the Parks and Recreation Board and the Environmental Board joint subcommittee had a lengthy work session to figure out a path forward.


The board and PARD staff will be assembling a “grid” which will provide combined data on each tree, and possible treatment options. Sara Hensley told In Fact Daily that she asked staff to combine the findings from the Davey Group Report, as well as Save our Springs’ designated arborist Don Gardner and a third yet-to-be-decided arborist into a “grid that shows for each tree what each expert has recommended and any alternatives, so we can make a really good informed decision.”


The parks staff will then do a cost analysis of the options in the grid to figure out which trees can be saved save. The department is also in the process of coordinating a volunteer network of concerned citizens, in an effort to use the passion of citizens on display at every tree meeting thus far.


Parks Director Sara Hensley updated the board on the creation of a maintenance fund for the existing trees by the Austin Parks Foundation, which will augment their own fund for planting new trees.


She said they have sent out a request for local arborists “a couple weeks ago,” asking them to give the Parks Department a price for assessing the trees. In order to avoid the restrictive rules of an RFP or RFQ process, the department may try to bargain down below the $5,000 threshold and instead have a local arborist assess only the most critical trees. She told In Fact Daily that she would like to select an arborist by May 26.


Hensley has also requested that staff provide a planting plan by June 1, which would give the department a better idea of where new trees should go.


Hensley told the board that Don Gardner had specified in a letter that Tree #7, in the middle of the children’s playground, was indeed a safety hazard, “and it’s his opinion right now that the tree should be removed.” She said that other expert arborists who had looked at the tree were also concerned about its location and the fact that the roots are damaged and the tree could uproot itself. “It’s not going to happen tomorrow,” she cautioned, but also said that she is “not willing to wait another month.”


The wheels are already in motion to get a removal permit from the watershed protection department with a letter being sent to the Mayor and City Council. The  joint subcommittee is scheduled to hear about the assessments on June 15.

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