Street work dispute: City takes tree report under advisement

An urban forester’s scathing report of the city’s dealing with trees to enhance a gateway into the city will be taken under advisement, a Wapakoneta administrator says, but alterations to change the street improvement project cannot occur without jeopardizing state grant dollars.

Urban Forester Stephanie Miller, who works for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry, prepared a report for the city voicing concerns for the residential area along the $2.6 million East Auglaize Street reconstruction and roadway enhancement project.

In her report provided to the Wapakoneta Daily News, Miller said, “The socioeconomic costs of changing a shaded, tree-lined street to a wide open, industrialized space will likely change the curb appeal and reduce property values along Auglaize Street.”

She also said if city officials agree to proceed with removing trees in the tree lawn and widen the street for parking along both sides then they will “have a wonderful opportunity to evaluate a few things including vehicular-pedestrian accidents, increased utility bills and usage, domestic violence and crime reports to the police department-emergency services. These are all measurable items that we often see affected by the lack of a large tree canopy.”

The planned East Auglaize Street project includes replacing water, sanitary and stormwater sewer lines as well as full-depth reconstruction of the street from Wood Street to the CSX railroad tracks.

A grant from the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) funds $1.34 million of the $2.1 million street reconstruction project and the city received approximately $560,000 from an ODOT Transportation Enhancement grant to change the streetscape.

After Monday’s Wapakoneta City Council meeting, Mayor Rodney Metz responded to Miller’s concerns in the report regarding the project.

“I understand what she is saying and what her concerns are, but for us to obtain the grant and for us to improve the community we have to remove some trees,” Metz said. “We will do everything we possibly can to put trees back in and maintain the trees.”

The mayor noted the city received Miller’s report late in the grant process, but they will consider the points she makes as they move forward.

“If you look at the criteria that the state has for the city to be grant eligible, I don’t know if receiving the report earlier would have changed anything,” Metz said. “A city has to do a traffic improvement to be eligible for funding, and traffic improvement means a community has to improve the safety of the vehicular traffic and make traffic flow better — which means we have to widen the street or to make improvements to the street.

“As ODOT officials told us during a meeting in this room (council chambers), if we change the plans in regard to the pavement width and the design for traffic then we would have to re-apply and there is no guarantee we would be awarded the money again,” he said. “We cannot change anything in regard to the street, but we can change anything and everything in regard to the enhancement grant such as tree species, number of trees and tree size as long as the dollar amount stays the same.”

Metz did not dismiss Miller’s report and said they would consider the report in regard to the ODOT Transportation Enhancement grant and will consider her concerns when developing plans for future street projects.

He also said they would track utility rates for the area and monitor the crime rate for the residential section of the street improvement project before and after its construction tabbed for 2013 or 2014.

He also voiced his opinion on expanding parking to both sides of the street after hearing concerns from community members.

“I know some people disagree but by placing parking on both sides, it does make the area safer,” Metz said. “Another thing pointed out in Miller’s report and other meetings I’ve attended, they reported parking on both sides reduces salt spray so it shelters the trees.”

In talking with residents and business owners along the construction route, Metz said the street project will be divided into two phases with one phase being from the CSX railroad tracks to Water Street and the second phase from Water Street to Wood Street.