American elm at Garth and Stewart marked for removal

Friday, April 19, 2013 | 6:46 p.m. CDT; updated 10:59 p.m. CDT, Saturday, April 20, 2013
The large American elm at the the southwest corner of Garth Avenue and Stewart Road has been marked for removal.

*An earlier version of this article included an incorrect date for the next Columbia City Council meeting.

COLUMBIA — The large American elm at the the southwest corner of Garth Avenue and Stewart Road has been marked for removal.

The deciduous tree, with its vase-shaped crown and far-reaching branches overlooking the road, bears two red X's on either side of its thick trunk. A small X on a thin upright elm nearby, an offshoot of the larger tree, would appear to condemn it as well.

The tree that was spray-painted more than a week ago grows on private property belonging to John and Charlotte Strawn. Neither could be reached for comment.

Frances Dickey, an MU English professor who lives on the neighborhood, is unhappy the city was planning to remove another tree in the area. Dickey's son informed her after seeing the big X on the tree Tuesday night. 

"Almost every tree on Stewart Road has been taken out to suit the wires," Dickey said in a post to the "Old Southwest and Broadway" Yahoo group. "What about suiting the people who live and walk on the street?"

Apparently the tree was marked for removal for fear that it eventually will be a problem for utility lines, said Morgan Long, a services superintendent at the Columbia Water and Light Department.

"This tree leans against a galvanized telephone cable," Long said while taking pictures of the tree earlier this week. "It has pushed the cable outward and down six inches. We worry if it will hold out another snowstorm without knocking out the nearest telephone pole and the next, causing interference with adjacent utility lines."

Public and safety hazards are also concerns, Long said. Some residents after the recent spate of bad weather complained to the city, saying the tree should be removed because of the potential for broken branches to damage passing vehicles and injure pedestrians.

Dickey agreed that the tree leans into the wires but said the city is "notorious" for removing neighborhood trees.

"Last year, six mature trees were taken out, including four right in front of my house," she said in reference to trees that were removed along Westwood Avenue. "We (residents) are wary of the red X."

Long, however, said homeowner Charlotte Strawn was consulted.

"She wants it removed," Long said. "She's totally OK with it." 

Dickey, however, said the city's past declarations that owners are responsible for damage from trees and its offers to remove trees for free likely weaken resistance from residents who find mature trees beneficial.

"Last year, the city arborist spoke to residents about potential liabilities to damages caused by their trees," Dickey said, adding that "if the city readily offers to take care of an expensive service, many residents would be tempted to give in. Yet, people say mature trees increase their property's value."

Thilly Avenue resident Catherine Parke said trees are key to the historic character for the neighborhood and one reason that people enjoy walking there.

Parke, who called the Water and Light Department Wednesday after being alerted by Dickey the previous day about the elm's impending removal, said Long informed her that the tree was not unhealthy but that the power lines were the concern.

That makes her wonder why city crews don't just trim the tree. Dickey also noted that some parts of the city have underground power lines.

The Water and Light Department will present a report to the City Council about the tree at its May 6* meeting. City Arborist Chad Herwald was scheduled to evaluate the integrity and health of the elm.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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