LAKEVIEW — Dozens of trees that were flagged for removal so the city could replace a century-old water main will be spared after officials opted to relocate the pipes away from the greenery.
Most of the trees that were at risk are along the east side of Paulina Street between Belmont and Lincoln avenues, with 19 trees originally flagged along the route for removal, Anthony Falada, general superintendent of construction for the Department of Water Management, said during a December community meeting. An additional 10 trees along School and Melrose streets were also at risk of being removed.
The trees are above pipes that were installed in 1889, and which need to be replaced to prevent breaks or leaks, officials said.
But after months of pressure from neighbors and local Ald. Matt Martin (47th) to find a way to restore the water main without disrupting any trees, the Department of Water Management announced a plan that will save most — if not all — of the greenery.
Rather than digging up the old pipes to lay new ones, the department will move the water main to the west side of Paulina, far enough away from the curb to minimize its effect on the trees, Martin said.
“At the moment, they’re not aware of any trees that would be negatively impacted by the work on Paulina,” Martin said. “Of course, that could change once they open up the street and see exactly where the root systems are located.”
For the remaining 10 trees along School and Melrose streets, the Department of Water Management has prepared a request for proposals for a contractor that can conduct sewer pipe lining on the drains, Martin said. Pipe lining is a “no dig” process for repairing and replacing sewer lines that involves inserting a tube of resin-coated pipe liner into the existing pipes to repair breaks or cracks.
“I am very proud of the way our Lakeview community came together and of neighbors’ incredible organizing to preserve our trees,” Martin said in an email update to his constituents. “It was invigorating to fight alongside you to keep Lakeview and the 47th Ward green.”
Neighbors who have organized for months to save the trees from destruction celebrated the announcement and their community’s ability to come together to influence the water department’s plans.
“We’re very happy,” said neighbor Rosemary Feit. “I think we also feel vindicated in terms of our skepticism about what we heard from the Department of Water Management back in the middle of December.”
During December’s community meeting, Falada said the pipes couldn’t be relocated because of the other utilities under the street and Environmental Protection Agency regulations. But then work to replace the pipes, which was scheduled to begin in mid-January, was delayed as the department worked with the city’s Office of Underground Coordination to determine if the pipes could actually be moved.
Neighbor Ilya Soussa said she hopes the water department’s new plan to relocate the pipes will set a precedent that the Department of Water Management must explore all options to restoring pipes before deciding to remove trees.
“I hope that this will establish a new way of thinking for these departments so that their first thought isn’t to come in with bulldozers,” Soussa said. “I hope it doesn’t require hundreds of emails to city officials and several news stories to affect this change in the future.”
Work to relocate Paulina Street’s water main will begin Monday, with sawcutting of the road tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, Martin said.
During construction, the area will see temporary road closures during working hours, which run 7 a.m.-3:30 p.m., Falada said in December.
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.
“This means the world to see the water department go on while keeping the trees in consideration,” Feit said. “We did this because we feel so passionately about what the trees contribute to our neighborhood, and the reason we are residents here has a lot to do with these beautiful, leafy-lined blocks. This is a victory for the environment too.”
Representatives for the Department of Water Management did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but spokesperson Megan Vidis previously said the agency is “committed to minimizing the possible environmental impact on the surrounding area when construction is necessary.”
“This is particularly true when it comes to decisions around old growth trees where we explore every option available to prevent their removal,” Vidis said.
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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