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How will city pay for maintaining existing Zilker trees ?

Thursday, July 2, 2009 by Jacob Cottingham

A presentation to the Parks and Recreation / Environmental Boards Joint Committee on Monday covered a draft plan for maintenance of nearly 200 trees in Zilker Park at a potential first year cost of $424,500. The board also voted for two more of the Barton Springs Pool trees to be removed, bringing the total, final number of trees removed around the pool to five.

 

Cora Wright, Assistant Director at PARD and Troy Houtman, Operations Manager split the presentation informing the board of the department’s evolving organization of philanthropic community efforts and giving them a broader idea of what may need to be done for all of the trees in Zilker. A spreadsheet with the 200 trees was available, and included recommended treatment (often pruning and mulching), tree girth, species and cost for the first year and cost for subsequent years. Houtman stressed that the projected costs do not include a volume discount and the final tally would likely be less.

 

However, PARD Director Sara Hensley and other staff insisted that this list was still in draft form. “We spent so much time on the 28 trees, we still have to go back out and inventory some of those other trees…. Our real focus is those 28 trees and trying to get that in the queue and figure out how to take care of them and get them in a healthy mode and then our staff is going to be addressing all the other trees in Zilker,” Hensley told In Fact Daily.

 

Several trees on the larger list are recommended for removal, and board member Mary Gay Maxwell pointed out a small tree recommended for removal. Staff then said that the tree was a new tree that had met an early and natural end. Other trees on the list could also have met a similar fate, as the inventory is not entirely up to date.

 

Wright informed the board that, “we are going to be working toward the idea of accepting donations and finding existing city dollars to support the hiring of an arborist who will perform the oversight for the pruning activity for the trees we’re discussing tonight.” She said a staff meeting on June 22 brought in outside stakeholders in “a very productive meeting” with representatives from Livable City, Austin Heritage Tree Foundation, Barton Spring Public Process, Save Barton Creek, the Sierra Club, Save Our Springs and the Urban Forest Program.  Money for a potential arborist position would come from donations raised by these groups and others. Wright also said the groups had requested that PARD hold off at least another two weeks on any pruning while these stakeholders move forward with raising additional funds.

 

The board learned that donating groups were divided on the source of the money raised. Some would prefer Austin Parks Foundation get money and others want to donate directly to the department. Wright said the grants officer would be helping to coordinate the different efforts and a website would be coming up very soon that would provide different options to help those with a desire to donate. A specific fund, separate from the general fund would likely be set up to manage the maintenance.

 

By the end of the meeting, Hensley told In Fact Daily, “We believe that pruning these trees right now is not the best thing. The groups that are wanting to raise the money would like for us to hold off and there’s absolutely no reason for us to run out there right now and start pruning away.” She said “common sense” would dictate what to do about limbs that could pose a hazard to park visitors.

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