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To save the Fourth Street trees
Neighbors try to change or stall road project to save six trees
4th St Smith Park sign
The six trees proposed to be removed from North Fourth Street are believed to be 100 years old. - photo by Photo by Ann Rupp

The March 26 Platteville Common Council meeting contained an ironic agenda item.

Less than a week after the year-long That Tree photography project ended, (see SouthWest, page 1B), and a week before the City of Platteville was named a Tree City USA (see story, page 3A), the Common Council considered a plan to remove six 100-year-old trees from Smith Park as part of this year’s North Fourth Street project.

The city plans to redo North Fourth Street between Camp Street and Ridge Avenue as part of its 2013 capital improvement plans. The project would narrow North Fourth, remove the diagonal parking spaces on the east side near the Family Aquatic Center, and shift the street to the west, eliminating the street’s eastward jog near Ridge Avenue. The water main underneath the street would be replaced, and the storm sewer would be upgraded.

The council voted 5–1 to table the street project so the city Department of Public Works and the low bidder on the Fourth Street project could work together to redo the street without damaging the trees.

“I’m a little reluctant to give up on those trees so quickly,” said District 2 Ald. Eileen Nickels. “Trading those six trees for greenspace doesn’t make sense to me.”

At-large Ald. Dick Bonin voted against tabling. At-large Ald. Steve Becker was absent from the meeting.

City residents who live near or walk through Smith Park have been campaigning on their own to prevent the removal of the trees. Signs with the phrases “I belong here! The road doesn’t!”, “Tree City USA?”, “I am 100 years old,” and “Don’t cut me down!” have been mounted on the trees since at least the day of the Common Council meeting.

The six trees — three maples and three oaks — were proposed to be removed because, said Director of Public Works
Howard Crofoot, with underground work on the project, “We cannot guarantee survival of the trees” even if the road is redone in its current route.

“I think anybody who thinks they can move the street over and save the trees is kidding themselves,” said Larry Trine, of 1435 Cody Parkway, who spoke at the council meeting.

The city Parks, Forestry and Recreation Committee approved a plan to replace the six trees with at least six new trees of at least 5-inch-diameter trunks.

City Forester Dave Duggan said Smith Park has about 250 trees, but “not a whole lot of young trees in the park … In another 25 or 50 years we could be in a situation where trees are literally falling down in the park.”

“They’re beautiful,” said Trine of the six old trees. “I’ve taken pictures of those trees this year because they’re gorgeous.”

Trine said those six trees along the Smith Park walkway make for a “nice section of walking track. The location of them is much more unique than other trees. They’re the last six that are right along the pathway.”

“Those trees according to the signs are 100 years old,” said Kathy Marty, of 10 Maple St., who spoke at the meeting. “It’s hard to replace something like that.”

Trine not only doesn’t want the trees removed. He doesn’t believe the project should take place.

“I think they ought to spend their money somewhere else,” he said, calling the city’s wish to upgrade the water lines and storm sewer “an assumption that could work anyplace in towns. That infrastructure is no newer or older than any other street in town where work hasn’t been done recently.

“If we’re a city that values trees, let’s not spend $440,000 on something that’ll risk them.”

Trine doesn’t accept the city’s argument that the jog in the road and its 60-foot width makes for an unsafe drive, pointing to the three-way stop at North Fourth and Sylvia Street.

“The danger is an uncontrolled intersection where there is no stop sign,” he said. “You’re preventing something that doesn’t need to be prevented.”

At the council meeting, District 3 Ald. Barb Daus asked Crofoot if the current North Fourth design has “led to any accidents or unsafe situations.”

Crofoot said he was not “aware of any.” He added, however, that eliminating angle parking by narrowing the street “minimizes maintenance.”

Marty said she observed more traffic issues with cars driving east on Ridge Avenue toward North Fourth than going north on North Fourth.

“I think that jog slows down people,” she said.

The low bidders on the North Fourth project are Rule Construction of Dodgeville for the underground utility work, and Lawinger Bros. Construction of Platteville for the street work. Both bids were below budget, said Crofoot.

Another 2013 street project got approval without opposition. The council unanimously voted to proceed with the Stonebridge Road reconstruction project north of West Main Street.

The project will install underground utilities and a storm culvert, and pave Stonebridge, including parking at Oak Creek Woods, 150 Stonebridge Road, and Stonebridge Apartments, 890 Stonebridge Road. The apartment owners will reimburse the city for the paving, according to city records.

Rule Construction was the low bidder on the project, which is under budget, Crofoot said.