Archive for Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Shouts and Murmurs: Tonganoxie trees in need of care

September 17, 2003

Tonganoxie needs someone to take care of its trees. It's not that the new trees of Tonganoxie matter so much today.

It's that they will matter tomorrow.

With a healthy crop of trees, in 20 years or so, our city will have a stately, welcoming appearance. Without them, two decades from now the city's natural landscape will look as barren as an overgrazed pasture in western Kansas.

In researching for an Aug. 27 story about the 100 or so new trees that have died in the lawns of new Tonganoxie homes, one point in the city's codes escaped me:

The city's landscaping requirements for new homes specify not only that new trees must be planted by the builders, but also that these trees must remain in good health for two years. A dead tree has to be replaced, the code reads.

Obviously, this would be a difficult ruling to enforce, as the trees are on private property and within the first two years, there may be several turnovers in ownership.

The code further states in regard to rental properties: "The owner and the tenant shall be held jointly responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of all landscaping materials."

This leads to another barrier in enforcing the codes: It would be difficult enough to get an owner to replant a tree, but even more so in the case of a duplex, to get a renter to pay half the cost.

Tonganoxie city administrator Shane Krull said he does not plan to bring up the tree issue with the city council.

"I don't have the capacity to follow through on it any differently than what's been done in the past," Krull said.

Moreover, Krull noted the last two summers of city watering restrictions, adding: "I think there are a lot of factors that have come into play that are outside a lot of people's control."

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that City Hall already has about as much work to handle as it possibly can. Growth-related issues, a needed new sewer plant and more water availability, understandably, take center stage.

But fortunately, Velda Roberts, a city council member who is chairman of the city's tree board, is willing to revive the dead-tree issue.

The key, Roberts said, is educating those who live in the homes about how to help trees survive. Mulching the appropriate way and providing sufficient water are key, as well as planting during the cooler months. If necessary, Roberts is willing to personally contact residents.

And, Roberts is looking into the possibility of finding ways to water trees if the residents don't, or can't, do it themselves.

It could be possible, Roberts said, that with the residents' permission, volunteers, or youths hired during the summer months, could water the trees.

Even amid watering restrictions, water could be hauled into the neighborhoods and 5-gallon buckets by the trees that have small holes poked in the bottom could be filled to slowly saturate the roots. Kansas State University tree experts say new trees can survive on as little as 10 gallons a week during the summer.

Trees are not just aesthetic. They add to the value of property.

Roberts mentioned an out-of-town owner of Tonganoxie duplexes whose young trees have died.

"It does have an effect on the value of his property," Roberts said. "And if the maintenance is primarily water and putting some mulch around, I think he could view that as a plus."

As, I think, would most of us.

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