GR looks at ways to whittle dangerous tree problem

Grand Rapids, tree work
Crews trim away dangerous tree limbs in Grand Rapids on June 8, 2017.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The tree on city property between the street and sidewalk in front of Dennis Frasier’s northeast Grand Rapids home has seen better days. A good wind will send its dead limbs onto his driveway from time to time.

After a number of calls from Frasier, the city tagged it for removal last summer.

“The city said. ‘This is a danger, it is a high priority, it has to be removed and it will be within 90 days,'” Frasier said, reading from the tag the city left on his door.

But one year later, the tree is still standing.

Dead and dying trees can more than just a nuisance. In May, high winds brought down a branch in Riverside Park, injuring a woman and a small child.

“We pay a lot of taxes up here. Where’s our tax dollars going and where the responsibility is going?” Frasier wondered.

Grand Rapids, tree work
Crews trim away dangerous tree limbs in Grand Rapids on June 8, 2017.

City officials admit to delays in efforts to cut down the city’s more dangerous trees. While they are a priority, one windy day can set the crew’s schedule back.

And the problem could get worse. City Manager Greg Sundstrom told city commissioners that there may be problems with the Norway maples trees that were planted by the thousands half a century ago. The trees have tendency to girdle, a condition in which the shallow roots may surround and choke the tree. If that happens, the city may have to clear some of the maples in the coming decade.

It’s one more issue forestry crews have to deal with when it comes to older trees.

“It definitely is a public safety issue,” Grand Rapids Parks Superintendent Joe Sulak said.

He said a recent inventory of trees on city property will change the city’s approach toward taking care of its trees, creating a proactive rather than reactive system.

“It’s going to take us some time to address this. What it’s allowed us to do is really get a good picture of the work that lies ahead of us,” Sulak said.

The inventory shows the city is responsible for some 85,000 trees. Of those, 73,000 line city streets. The rest are located in parks, cemeteries and on other city properties.

Grand Rapids, tree work
Crews trim away dangerous tree limbs in Grand Rapids on June 8, 2017.

Along with the 1,200 trees marked for removal during the inventory, another 2,000 — including the one outside Frasier’s home, according to the city — are labeled priority two and need to be addressed sooner rather than later.

The estimated price tag is $4.5 million. As the budget process continues, the city is looking at funding options.

“I think this could be done, to some degree, over multiple years,” Sundstrom told city commissioners during a budget review session Tuesday.

Sulak said the $4.5 million figure covers everything from tree removal to stump grinding to pruning salvageable trees.

His department is looking at getting the worst of the worst taken care of first.

“What’s the highest priority in terms of public health and safety?” he said his department is considering. “How can we break that up and get those addressed as quickly as we can?”

If you have a problem with a city tree in your neighborhood, you can call 311 to report it.