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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Targeted trees

Stretches of Freya and Bernard streets will become as smooth as a Botox-injected starlet next year. However, there’s a wrinkle in the city’s reconstruction project. The South Hill will be losing trees, and some sycamore, maple and ponderosa lovers are opining against the idea of naked sidewalk strips. Some trees will be removed to comply with clear zone rule, some will be pulled to make room for power poles, and some because they’re damaging sidewalks. “The beauty of the area is our greatest asset and resource,” said Richard Rush of the Cliff-Cannon Neighborhood Council. “If we trash that, we don’t have an economic development tool.”

Rush believes the removal of trees contradicts the city’s Comprehensive Plan, which is designed to maintain and enhance the urban forest, which improves air quality, reduces urban warming and increases habitat.

The street reconstructions will be from 14th to 29th Avenue on Bernard, which is about one mile, and from Hartson to 37th Avenue on Freya, about two miles.

The Department of Engineering Services estimates 21 trees will need to be removed from the planning strip on Bernard, 11 of them as large as 10 feet in circumference. About five trees will need to be removed from Freya, and others will be cut back.

Avista will get in on the action, too. Tim Mair, Avista customer project coordinator, said four utility poles around Roosevelt Elementary School will need to be relocated to comply with the clear zone policy.

The new locations are generally about six feet east of and behind existing curbs.

In addition, another 21 poles are being looked at, with some possibly being moved for wheelchair access reconstruction.

On Freya, 42 poles will be relocated, the majority on the east side of the street.

Avista utility crews will begin work on Freya and Bernard in late February or early March, depending on the weather.

The city plans to start working on Freya in May and on Bernard in June. Each project, to be done in phases, should take about two months.

“It’s going to be a pretty tough summer up here,” Steve Hansen, senior engineer for design, told a group of residents at a November public meeting.

The reconstruction project is being paid for through the 2004 street bond program, which allots $17 million over 10 years. Freya’s price is $2.4 million, and Bernard will cost $1.6 million.

The unpaved streets off Freya will not be paved because that is not in the funding.

Aside from the tree and utility pole plans, the projects involve:

“ A full street section replacement from curb to curb. No additional lanes and no right of way acquisition will be needed.

Bernard or Freya will not be made wider. However, city engineer Mitch Miller said the grade of some of the steepest sections on Freya – such as between 16th and 17th avenues – can be made slightly less severe. The steepest grade is 17 degrees.

Both streets will be closed, except to residents.

The busy intersection of 14th and Bernard is scheduled to take two weeks to complete.

Freya will be done in two or three phases. Every fourth intersection will be opened so motorists will be able to get to their destinations.

The intersection at 29th Avenue also will be improved.

“ Crumbled and unsafe sidewalks and curbs will be repaired. Gaps will be fixed.

“ Handicap-accessible curb ramps will be installed at the intersections, thus the relocation of telephone poles by Avista and Qwest.

“ Minimal water and storm water improvements will be made.

Clear zone policy is a term new to many of the residents most affected by the project. Using the Washington state Department of Transportation policy as its guideline, the city approved the policy in November. Clear zone is the distance of trees from the curb.

“Doing that helps alleviate poles being hit by vehicles,” Mair explained.

Jean Wolcott and Wesley Drollinger’s birch tree may be affected because of the clear zone policy. Wolcott said one of the reasons the couple bought their brick house on the 2300 block of South Freya was because of the beautiful three-story tall birch.

“The sumac on the corner – I could live without that tree,” Wolcott said. “The thing I’m concerned about is the birch.

“They’re pretty touchy. If they have to cut it back, that would pretty much kill it.”

Janine and Frank James, who live on the 800 block of South Freya, also voiced concern over their 60-year-old maple tree.

“It gives us every bit of our shade,” Frank James said. “(If it’s cut down), the whole house is going to be a big sweatbox in the summer.”

However, after speaking with Avista representatives, they are feeling better about the chance of saving their showcase timber. Mair said that instead of using the standard nine-foot wooden cross arm for the wires and cables, a five-foot decorative cross arm may be used.

Pine trees, as well as shade trees with their crooked branches and droopy leaves, are the signature of the South Hill. Rush, a resident of 14th Avenue for 12 years, is determined to keep it that way.

One of his proposals is for the city to fix the buckling concrete with sidewalks that curves around a tree’s roots. He invested $1,600 of his money to build around his sycamore tree.

“It’s not rocket science to fix our sidewalks and maintain our trees,’ Rush said.

At a neighborhood meeting at Wilson Elementary School earlier this month, Rush and other environmentally minded residents expressed their concerns to city officials. Rush said although talks will continue, he is “not optimistic” things will change.

“They are going to do certain things and stick to their plan,” Rush said.

In an effort to reduce public opposition, as well as maintain the city’s beauty, the city will purchase younger trees from the Parks Department. The Parks Department will plant the new trees on privately owned property.

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