LAKEVIEW — Twenty-nine trees could be removed in West Lakeview so the city can replace century-old water mains, but neighbors called on the city’s water department to explore all other alternatives before removing any trees.
The trees are mostly along Paulina Street between Belmont and Lincoln avenues, with 19 trees along the route flagged for possible removal, said Anthony Falada, general superintendent of construction for the Department of Water Management. Ten additional trees could be removed along the side streets, including School and Melrose streets from Ravenswood to Lincoln and Ravenswood from Melrose to Belmont.
The parkways along those streets are situated above pipes that were installed in 1889 and need to be replaced to prevent breaks or leaks, said Bulent Agar, deputy commissioner of the Department of Water Management.
The trees would need to be removed if their roots are too close to the excavation work, but they will be replaced with trees measuring 4.5 inches in diameter, Falada said
“One of the big things we have an issue with is we have to carve a safe excavating path to lay the water main,” Falada said. “In order for the tree to survive, we have to not impact those roots at all. Unfortunately for Paulina and the side streets, the [roots] will be affected … on a case-by-case basis.”
Work is expected to begin mid-January and finish around May, Falada said.
In addition to the tree removals, the work will affect the area with temporary road closures during working hours, which run 7 a.m.-3:30 p.m., Falada said.
Water service interruptions will also be necessary for the Water Department to make water main connections and implement water service transfers, Falada said. Interruptions will last four to six hours for connections and one to two hours for service transfers, but neighbors will be notified in advance.
Neighbors questioned what alternatives were available to removing the trees, like moving the water main into the street so trees aren’t affected.
The Department of Water Management has looked at the issue for the past eight months and determined the water main can only be moved so far, officials said.
“We’ve looked at if we could shift the water main further into the street, and it’s not possible because of the other utilities under the street,” Falada said.
Whether trees need to be removed will be determined on a case-by-case basis once crews begin excavating, Falada said.
“We will make every effort to save every tree possible,” Falada said. “We don’t want to cut down trees. We don’t want to make anyone’s lives miserable. … So we’ll definitely look at every method possible for saving the older and bigger trees, but we’ll have to address those as we’re digging.”
Neighbors have been organizing to save the trees for the past couple months, arguing their removal would affect the area’s environment, property values and charm.
“We want clean water, don’t get me wrong; but there has to be a different way to do this that doesn’t have such an environmental-, financial- and charm-related impact in the neighborhood,” neighbor Ilya Soussa previously said. “These trees provide so much character to the neighborhood, so it would be devastating to see them go.”
Caroline Teichner, who lives just north of the area where the water main replacement will happen, said allowing the trees to be removed would set a “dangerous precedent” for the rest of the neighborhood.
“If the city is doing this on one block, it sets a very dangerous precedent that it’s a lot easier for them to do this on other blocks,” Teichner said. “I feel like whether you live on the street or not, we should be fighting to stop this so it doesn’t start happening everywhere.”
Water department spokesperson Megan Vidis said the department takes the decision to remove trees “very seriously” and $46 million out of the city’s budget will go toward planting and maintaining 75,000 trees over the next five years.
“We respect [trees’] importance to our environmental health, home values and the beauty of our city,” Vidis said. “We are always looking for infrastructure maintenance and repair options to save trees.”
Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.
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