City commissioners voice concerns on cutting
City commissioners now want to talk more about ways to avoid cutting down trees in Watson Park.
Commissioners at their meeting Tuesday evening directed the city manager to immediately ask Westar Energy to delay any further cutting operations in the park. Crews contracted by Westar were expected to resume cutting operations this morning.
City Manager David Corliss said he would make the request, but told commissioners he had no legal authority to stop Westar from continuing with the tree cutting. All the trees being cut are in Westar’s utility right-of-way.
The city previously had discussed the possibility of Westar burying the power line so trees would not have to be cut, but the cost of that project was estimated at $1 million, Corliss said.
Crews hired by Westar Energy cut down several large trees Tuesday along the eastern edge of Buford M. Watson Jr. Park, clearing portions of a picturesque backdrop for family picnics, wedding celebrations and simple walks through a long-established urban open space.
To make up for the loss, city officials promise to plant ornamental trees in their place, ones expected to be more colorful, more appropriately sized and — perhaps most critical — far less threatening to the power supply for downtown Lawrence and elsewhere.
“We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars putting in and maintaining trees every year,” said Mark Hecker, the city’s superintendent for parks and maintenance. “Sometimes trees are just in the wrong place. You have to decide: Do you want power every time you flip the switch on, or do you want a tree?”
Cynthia McClure, who lives across Kentucky Street from the park’s stationary No. 1073 train locomotive, watched from her porch as the crews reduced trees to logs and woodchips.
“It just doesn’t seem reasonable to cut down these trees, just for this,” McClure said. “It’s not like these trees are going to grow back.”
But the existing ash trees had grown too tall and too close to a circuit that runs into the central business district from a Westar substation at Sixth and Kentucky streets, Hecker said. The proximity of branches had left the circuit susceptible to damage during ice storms or especially windy conditions.
Simple trimming didn’t make sense, as the trees were considered too diseased, damaged or otherwise unlikely to survive necessary cuts, he said.
“In some cases it’s best just best to remove the trees and come back with something better,” Hecker said, noting that flowering crabapples, redbuds and flowering cherry trees would be likely candidates to replace them.
Crews from Wright Tree Service also will be trimming — but not removing — trees along the north side of Seventh Street, between Kentucky and Tennessee, Hecker said. Trimming and removal work will continue on Seventh to as far west as Mississippi Street.