City leaders are warning that up to 20 mature trees in and near Watson Park in downtown Lawrence soon may fall victim to a chainsaw.
City parks and recreation officials have been notified that the trees are in danger from a program Westar Energy undertakes to keep trees out of power lines.
“It could end up changing the look of the area quite a bit,” said Mark Hecker, the city’s parks and maintenance superintendent.
The power line that Westar is trying to clear of overhanging trees runs along the north side of Seventh Street. When it reaches Kentucky Street, it then turn north and runs along the west side of Kentucky Street.
As a result, trees along the park’s edge that faces Seventh Street and along the park’s edge that faces Kentucky are in danger. Hecker said cutting also could be involved along Seventh Street west of Tennessee Street.
“It is painful for us because we’re in the business of planting trees, but we see Westar’s interest,” Hecker said. “The circuit they are clearing feeds a major part of downtown. If you lose that line, a major part of downtown is without power.”
Westar routinely does maintenance projects in Lawrence that involve trimming trees near power lines. Trimming the trees is an option, but Hecker said the Parks and Recreation Department likely will ask Westar to remove the entire tree in several instances.
“We’re afraid that if they were trimmed as much as they would have to be, that they would just be big, ugly trees that we really don’t want on our right of way,” Hecker said. “You want something that looks nice and is safe.”
The plan is for parks and recreation next spring to plant young trees — probably a couple of inches in diameter — to replace the lost trees. The new trees will be of a variety — perhaps crabapples or redbuds — that will be colorful but won’t grow to a size that would interfere with power lines.
The city plants dozens of trees along streets annually, and has standards for the type of trees that can be planted in order not to interfere with power lines. But these trees near Watson Park were planted long before that program began.
“We’ve actually had conversations about what came first, the trees or the power lines,” Hecker said. “We’re not sure.”
Cutting could begin in about two weeks, depending on the weather, Hecker said.
Most of the trees are in the city’s street right-of-way, which technically means that the city — not nearby property owners — are responsible for determining the fate of the trees. But Hecker said if a tree is in front of a home, the city or Westar will contact the property owner to discuss options.
“We understand that trees can have sentimental value,” Hecker said.