What started as a green thumb has become a pointing finger.
Some of the 1,050 trees planted along the new stretch of Interstate 90 south of Sherman Avenue are dead or dying.
But responsibility for the dying pines is being batted back and forth like leaves on a windy day.
At issue are thousands of wasted taxpayer dollars.
The landscaping and planting project cost $574,776, according to Idaho Transportation Department records. It started in 1991 with completion of the department’s 5.5-mile, $47 million stretch of new highway.
The pines were planted in the fall of 1992 on the gravelly western slope of the new road, overlooking The Coeur d’Alene Resort’s floating golf green.
Kootenai County agreed to maintain the trees and replace dead ones, according to Larry Wolf, assistant district engineer for the Idaho Transportation Department.
Records show the county assumed that responsibility 13 months ago. Hagadone Hospitality contracted to put in irrigation systems to ensure the trees took root and thrived.
Today, some of the young pines are burnt orange - dead or dying - probably from a lack of water, said Barbara Babic, with the Transportation Department.
“We had that 90-day drought last year,” she said.
County Commissioner Bob Macdonald said the trees’ health was the responsibility of Hagadone Hospitality.
“We’re really out of the line of responsibility,” Macdonald said. “We’re just sort of the passthrough agency.”
Repeated attempts to reach John Barlow of Hagadone Hospitality, the man Macdonald said was in charge of keeping the trees alive, were unsuccessful Friday, Saturday and Monday.
Macdonald said about 30 percent of the trees died and were replaced a few years ago. Now an additional 20 percent are dead, he said.
“I noticed them the other day for the first time,” he said. “Of course, they were planted in 30 feet of rock with a little bit of dirt.”
Babic admitted the rock was not an ideal place for vegetation to take root, but said the trees appeared to be doing well until this year.
Wolf said that a landscape architect designed the planting.
“It is a rock hillside, but the trees were planted in topsoil,” he said.
Each tree was planted with a couple of cubic yards of earth in a “pod,” he said. The soil would nourish the trees until their roots could dig deeper, he said.
The irrigation system, he said, was designed to water the trees for four or five years, until their roots were deep enough to find water.
The reason the trees are dying, he said, is lack of water. The extreme heat last summer meant the trees needed more water than usual.
“If the irrigation system is running, they (the trees) obviously weren’t getting enough water,” he said.
The dead trees will be replaced, but taxpayers are likely to foot the bill. The cost of replacement was unavailable.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: One Color Photo; One Map: Coeur d’Alene area