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Main St. pistache trees threaten underground utilities

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Main St. pistache trees threaten underground utilities
Clayton is about to replace six pistache trees along Main St. that have burst their planters and are threatening serious damage to sidewalks and underground utilities. The trees will be replaced with six crape myrtles. (photo: Tamara Steiner)

After hearing about liability issues due to sidewalk cracking, the Clayton City Council voted 5-0 on Aug. 20 to remove six Chinese pistache trees that are bursting out of planter boxes on Main Street.

“Some of them have grown under the boxes and are destroying adjacent sidewalk,” interim city manager Joseph Sbranti told the council.

“There’s been a lot of little patching and repair work done to try to minimize trip hazards, but it’s difficult to keep up with,” he said. “I noted there were gaps in some of the walkways which are easily an inch, so a heel could go in there and cause someone an injury. The sooner we can address this, the better.”

Meanwhile, the replacement evergreen tree the city planted for the annual Christmas lighting has died. According to Laura Hoffmeister, assistant to the city manager, another tree will probably be planted this fall near the corner of Oak and Main streets. She said the holiday lighting would likely be at the gazebo, as it has been the past two years.

Wary about utility lines

The pistache trees in question are on both sides of the street between the Grove park and the bocce ball courts. The city planted six pistaches and six crape myrtles there about 20 years ago, using planter boxes to keep the roots from utility lines that Sbranti said are “fairly shallow” beneath the sidewalk.

About 30 trees line Main Street, but only those 12 are in boxes. While the crape myrtles are thriving with minimal damage to the boxes, Sbranti said most of the pistache trunks are only inches from the sides of the boxes. The boxes on two pistaches are a bit larger, so the city will examine the trees once the boxes are broken apart.

“But the last thing we want to do is be back here in two years and say, ‘Yeah, we made a mistake,’ because that box is now broken and the tree has grown further and pushed that box over. So we’ll be very cautious about making that decision once it’s opened up.”

Opting for more crape myrtles

The council voted to replace the pistache trees with 24-inch box crape myrtles this fall. The city awarded a $237,420 contract to Kerex Engineering – the only one to submit a bid. Councilman Jim Diaz emphasized that the Landscape Maintenance District has adequate funds for the project.

In addition to the tree replacement, Kerex will repair, enlarge and replace planter boxes as needed. The plan also includes running electricity to the tree wells, which will allow for tree lighting as well as electrical access for downtown events.

“The improvement with the lights will be absolutely spectacular when we come to winter time,” Councilwoman Julie Pierce said.

Councilman CW Wolfe noted that the city needs a strong “PR campaign” so residents aren’t surprised by the project. City engineer Scott Alman assured the council that construction would not interfere with city events like Oktoberfest. “They’ll know they have to shut down and clean up the street and make it passable,” he said.

Questioning the review process

Howard Kaplan of the city’s Trails and Landscape Committee (TLC) expressed concern about the TLC’s role in the process. “I’ve been on TLC for a couple years, and I know the TLC has not been able to see a scope of work or question any of the plans,” he said during public comments. “I thought there were good explanations that were given here, but it feels as if the review has been incomplete and not as challenged as it might have been.”

However, Hoffmeister told the council things like plants and construction documents are “staff implementation items.”

“The council doesn’t even see those,” she said. “They are put together for purposes of obtaining bids.”
Pierce, who has been an ex officio TLC member since last winter, said the committee discussed the project “pretty extensively.”

“It’s really not our job as lay people to write the specifications for a contract that needs to be bid,” she said. “It is to look at the policies involved and to overview the costs. I think that’s been done several times at the TLC, and it’s certainly been talked about here – repeatedly.”

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