This past summer I had a lot to say about the tree damage on Madison’s Spaight Street caused by careless street construction workers. The trees were large and beautiful, and in many cases part of the ‘cooling system’ for old Victorian homes in the neighborhood. At the time I was somewhat critical of Madison Alder Marsha Rummel for being slow in responding to the concerns of those who were impacted by the sloppy job being done by these work crews. Even after having a McDonalds breakfast conversation with Rummel on a Saturday morning in July I felt she was not quite ‘up to speed’ on the real level of concern that Madison residents had over the trees.
But over the past months as I have followed this issue, and her work, I am glad to say the following.
I was wrong.
I want to take this opportunity to let the citizens of Madison know that in spite of my initial thoughts, I am most pleased with the level of interest and work that Alderperson Rummel engaged in to make this issue over our precious and much-loved city trees a top priority. I think there is now the real start to a city ordinance that will have teeth and meaning when it comes to protecting one of the beautifiers of our city, our grand trees. I will let the words of Marsha Rummel make the case for why there is reason for tree lovers and homeowners to be happy.
After the disastrous loss of trees on Spaight St last June, many residents became concerned about our tree protection policies. This prompted City Engineering and Parks staff to convene a work group to look at improving practices to protect street trees, better communicate risks to residents and revise the tree specifications during street reconstruction. Staff is drafting specifications that will strengthen provisions in Section 107 of the Standard Spec book and locate all tree related specs to a single location. Contractors will be informed of our tree preservation specifications during preconstruction meetings and they will be required sign an acknowledgement that they understand our policies. Penalties will include a fine based on the diameter of the tree damaged due to negligence and the costs of removal, stumping, planting replacement trees, or pruning damaged limbs. Standards will be established for how close to a tree a contractor can grade or excavate, when to seek permission of the City Forester to cut roots, and a prohibition on parking equipment within 5’ of any tree to prevent soil compaction. Staff is also proposing to improve practices between Engineering and Parks to insure that a City Forester reviews affected city trees as part of the checklist that goes to Board of Public Works public hearings, in advice of bidding out projects. Another improvement will be an enhanced letter to property owners that outlines the level of risk on a per tree basis.
Some details still need to be resolved but I plan to codify the tree specs into an ordinance soon. Thanks to neighborhood activists who worked on this and to city staff who responded. Spaight St’s loss is the city’s gain…