To the surprise of many –including residents, business owners, and council people—the city plans to remove 19 trees on Washington Street as part of the avenue’s ongoing design.
The $17.5 million project, approved by an 8-1 council vote in 2016, will replace old water mains, add safety features like bump outs, and repave the pothole-covered road.
According to city spokesman Juan Melli, “Three trees have been removed and 16 more are planned to be removed due to utility conflicts such as drainage improvements.”
While officials voted on the plan last year, they were apparently unaware of the tree removal.
Residents recently said that 22 trees would be removed in total, but this is inaccurate, according to Hoboken Shade Tree Commission Chair Diana Davis, who says 16 trees will be removed.
Melli clarified “three other tree pits had dead [or] damaged trees that were already empty by the time construction began. In some cases they were hit by a car or delivery truck that went onto the sidewalk.”
Mary Ondrejka, a concerned resident, said in an email last week, “The city could never have passed that Washington Street Project with all its horrors if the public knew they were going to kill 22 healthy trees to put more concrete on our street which heats up the planet and is not good for the environment. The city has not been transparent with this issue. They did not want the public to know they were going to remove 22 trees. They figured no one would be paying attention and would quietly and systematically get rid of them…I am thoroughly disgusted with their deception.”
Eugene Flinn, owner of Elysian Café, has posted laminated signs on the trees. The signs read “This tree is being cut down for curb extensions. Call Mayor Zimmer and voice your concerns 201-420-2013 and tell your councilperson. A total of 22 mature trees are being destroyed along Washington Street. Please help stop this Washington Street Madness!”
“We wanted the public to know and be informed,” said Flinn. “When they made the plan they never mentioned anything about trees being removed…There could’ve been so many other ways to do this design.”
Can they be saved?
According to city spokesman Juan Melli, the city is trying to save or replant existing trees when possible.
Melli said the project engineer is doing an evaluation to determine if possible drainage alternatives would result in keeping some or all of the trees and that “no more trees will be removed until the city has reviewed the engineers report.”
Unfortunately for two trees that once stood outside of Arthur’s on Second and Washington streets, they have already been removed.
Melli added, “The city also conducted a walkthrough with the resident engineer of the project and a representative from the Shade Tree Commission to evaluate which trees were likely to survive a replanting. An arborist and landscape architect are also evaluating if the trees can survive replanting and where they could be replanted.”
Davis said she has already identified at least eight trees “I would like to save in some way… and of those eight the initial idea is to transplant them…we are having arborists look at them to see if this is feasible.”
Councilmen Ruben Ramos and Michael DeFusco both sent press releases last week asking the city to rethink the Washington Street construction. DeFusco, concerned about the construction’s ongoing effect on businesses and the trees, called for a special meeting of the council. Ramos asked for a pause in construction.
Ramos cited concerns with the plans bump outs while DeFusco cited the tree and bluestone sidewalk removal.
“No one would dispute that Washington Street is in desperate need of repair, but the current administration’s handling of this vital project has raised an enormous amount of concern throughout the community,” said DeFusco. “Businesses are suffering, quality of life is being disrupted, and most alarmingly, there is irreversible damage being done to our city’s character in the removal of trees and destruction of a historic bluestone sidewalk in front of City Hall.”
“These two issues were never discussed during the long deliberations about this project, meaning that they were either overlooked or intentionally concealed,” added DeFusco in a release. “Either way, it’s now clear that we need an open public meeting to discuss these concerns and look for a solution that will repair Washington Street without further harming our city’s historic features or our environment.”
Melli pointed out that over 50 new trees will be added in addition to approximately 30 new trees that have already been planted between First Street and Fifth Street in the past few years via the Shade Tree Commission’s Washington Street Beautification Initiative.
Ondrejka said that new saplings may not survive the winter weather and thus won’t fix the problem.
“The trees coming down have survived the past winters and the storms,” she said. “To kill them senselessly now is wrong and unfair to all of us who do not want this to happen.”
Davis said they would never plant saplings on Washington Street as “they are the size of a pencil” and instead would identify the specifications, caliber, and species of tree before planting.
Davis added it’s good that some of the trees will be removed, as “they are somewhat hazardous and hanging on for dear life. It’s better to get rid of them now than before they die slowly and become more hazardous.”
Marilyn Baer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.