Grand Rapids spending $2.4M to eliminate dangerous trees

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

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids city officials now have a plan to deal with old, potentially dangerous trees hanging over homes, streets and park land.

Tuesday, city commissioners voted to spend $2.4 million to deal with nearly 3,000 trees that either need to be cut down or trimmed as soon as possible.

“This is an asset class that has been ignored up until this point largely,” Grand Rapids City Manager Greg Sundstrom told the commission.

Translation: The city has been letting the maintenance of trees slide, but now it’s a priority.

It’s a problem that surfaced in May, when a large tree branch fell on a woman and her infant at Riverside Park.

In June, city officials told 24 Hour News 8 there were too many old trees that had fallen or were in danger of coming down, and not enough city crews available to address the problem.

A recent tree inventory by Grand Rapids shows 1,500 of the 85,000 trees on city property need to be removed ASAP. Nearly 1,500 others need to be trimmed to avoid a dangerous situation.

“Today we got approval to move forward on our plan, which we’re calling a priority one plan,” City Parks Superintendent Joe Sulak said Tuesday.

Much of the money will be used to hire private contractors to supplement city forestry crews. Those private contractors are slated to join the the team by Nov. 1.

The city hopes to have “priority one” trees either cut down or trimmed up by April 1.

“I think the take-home message though, is that we’re addressing it,” said Sulak. “We’re looking to do it in an expedited way and we’re doing it in a public and private partnership, so that we can get this done as soon as we can.”

Commissioners voted to fund the project by taking a little money from here, and a little from there.

Approximately $900,000 will come from the city’s insurance fund; $150,191 will come from the major streets fund; $100,000 will come from the vital streets fund; $200,000 will come from the parks’ budget; $600,000 will come from the refuse collection fund, and $472,251 will come from the city’s general operating fund.

The next step will be a longer range funding solution to insure future tree problems can be better managed.

Sundstrom says he hopes to have a plan to present to the commission by the time he retires, sometime after Jan. 1.