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They presented a public safety risk, so they had to go

123 trees to be torn out and replaced along Roeder Avenue

Workers from the city of Bellingham's Public Works Department remove London Plane trees from along Roeder Avenue on Jan. 17, 2018. The tree removal, and eventual replacement, is part of the Roeder Avenue Overlay project.
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Workers from the city of Bellingham's Public Works Department remove London Plane trees from along Roeder Avenue on Jan. 17, 2018. The tree removal, and eventual replacement, is part of the Roeder Avenue Overlay project.

If you drove down Roeder on Thursday, you likely noticed the City of Bellingham’s Public Works Department removing trees from alongside the road — a whole lot of trees.

To be exact, 123 London Plane trees are coming out. But don’t worry, Public Works is planning to replace them with new trees, project engineer Craig A. Mueller wrote Thursday in an email to The Bellingham Herald.

“The decision to cut down trees was not one taken lightly,” Mueller wrote, “and quite frankly, I think it deserves a full discussion as to why we are doing what we are doing.”

Replacing the trees is part of the city’s Roeder Avenue Overlay project to resurface the street from the Whatcom Waterway bridge to Squalicum Parkway, including buffered bicycle lanes in each direction and replacing the sidewalks on the south side of the road.

Repairing the sidewalks is where the trees come in — or come out, as the case may be.

Though London Planes are generally an excellent species to line an urban street because they grow quickly, make a nice canopy and are tolerant of urban pollution, Mueller wrote, they grow big and have shallow root systems.

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A worker from the city of Bellingham’s Public Works Department uses heavy equipment to pile up London Plane trees along Roeder Avenue Thursday. The tree removal, and eventual replacement, process is part of the Roeder Avenue Overlay project. Lacey Young The Bellingham Herald

Unfortunately, the trees were planted along the corridor in relatively small wells, which Mueller said do not include root barriers to keep tree roots from damaging sidewalks.

“Initially, the plan was to just replace the segments of sidewalk that were buckling and to leave the trees alone,” Mueller wrote.

But further examination revealed sidewalk damage near nearly every tree.

Mueller said the Public Works team considered digging a perimeter around each of the trees to install root guards, but the small wells mean that it would either weaken the tree supports or end up killing the trees.

“Imagine the wind storms we’ve had over the past month with a row of 123 trees with weakened roots right next to the bay,” Mueller wrote. “That could certainly present a public safety risk.”

Ultimately, it was decided to remove the trees, modify the wells, repair the sidewalks and install new trees, this time planting Black Tupelo, Pacific Sunset Maple and Ginko Biloba — “All decent sized trees to give canopy and cover throughout the corridor, but not larger than the tree wells can handle,” Mueller wrote.

The tree removals will be done by the end of the month, Mueller told The Bellingham Herald in an email Friday, but the Roeder Avenue Overlay project should continue until May.

David Rasbach joined The Bellingham Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news. He has been an editor and writer in several western states since 1994.


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