A dozen big trees on 5th Street are gone. Are you surprised?

5th St. construction 5th St. construction 5th St. construction 5th St. construction tree

It’s quite a shock to look west on 5th St. from Division.  Yesterday, over a dozen trees were cut down for the 5th St. construction project.  While I was taking these photos this morning, several people, including three business owners, approached me, expressing anger, dismay, and confusion. One said she’s attended all the City meetings about the project and it was never mentioned that the trees would be taken down.

5th-st-trees 5th-st-trees 5th-st-trees

Here are some old photos that give a glimpse of what it used to look like.

I’m sure there’s a rationale for it, but I don’t know when and where it’s been communicated. City Engineer Katy Gehler-Hess and Public Services Director Joel Walinski never mentioned it in the video interview I did with them a month ago

Shades (heh) of the ‘cottonwood caper’, another version of this?


  1. I guess it must have been necessary, but that street sure looks sad without any shade.

    July 26, 2008
  2. Jerry Bilek said:

    I thought it was mentioned at the NDDC forum when Joel and the consultant presented the 5 or 6 different scenarios of what 5th st. would look like. I could be wrong.

    It’s possible this was one of the Crazy Daze events that nobody knew about.

    July 26, 2008
  3. So Jerry, you think it may have been an aesthetic decision to remove the trees?

    July 26, 2008
  4. Jerry Bilek said:

    only if you are a minimalist.

    I remember 5 or 6 options of what 5th st would look like. Some involved widening the road, some had the bump outs at the intersections.

    maybe the road will be wider and the trees needed to be removed to accommodate that.

    July 26, 2008
  5. Mary Rossing said:

    Fear not, the trees will be replaced with even more appropriate choices for the urban environment. There will also be plantings of hardy prairie type plants in open areas around the new trees. The sidewalks will be widened and there will be bike lanes on 5th street! It is all part of the streetscape improvements for downtown. And the crown jewel will be the 5th Street Promenade along the river front that will include a granite paver pad for Ray Jacobson’s Harvest Sculpture as the focal point. The only part that will not be finished to specs this fall is the road/parking surface along the river. Because of tight time lines written into the project (4th of July, DJJD needs) the surface will remain impervious until next season when it will be replaced with a surface that water can drain through. You are right, Jerry, this was part of the plan that was presented at the NDDC forum and at multiple other public events. But it is still a shock to see our green friends go.

    July 26, 2008
  6. When we first came to Northfield, it was in October, and it was the trees, the bridges over the Cannon and the trees that most drew me into choosing this town as the place to live. ..did I mention the lovely big colorful trees?

    The thing that I most dislike about Europe are the piazzas and squares with nary a bush, a shrub or tree anywhere to be seen. It always makes me think that the people are too lazy to clean up the fallen leaves.

    Be careful, Northfield. Be careful.

    July 26, 2008
  7. I sent a note of dismay to the city through the link on the 5th Street Project website; here is the reply I received from city engineer Katy Gehler-Hess:

    We understand your distress with the removal of the trees along 5th Street. As part of our project process we carefully evaluate the impacts to trees. We balance the protection of trees with providing necessary services. The following were considered in the decision process for the project:

    1. A forester was hired to evaluate all of the trees along the project corridor. His report indicated that many of the trees along the street are Green Ash. Ash trees are susceptible to Emerald Ash Borer, a insect that infects and kills the tree. He also noted that trees under stress, specifically those with limited growing space and other urban stressors like those on 5th Street, are at greater risk for infection. Indications have been that as Emerald Ash Borer spreads it will have results much like Dutch Elm Disease. It has been predicted that this area will start having impacts in 4-5 years.

    2. Although the common perception is that trees will continue to live and thrive as long as we let them, this isn’t necessarily the case. The trees in the downtown area have confined growing spaces that stunt the growth and limit the life span of the tree. Trees can decay from the inside weakening their structure and becoming a liability to the surroundings.

    3. Work on the utility infrastructure could significantly impact the trees
    two-fold. If the trees were left in place the equipment completing the work would damage tree branches. Excavation necessary to replace the aging infrastructure could harm the root system of these trees. Both of these impacts would significantly impact the health of the trees which would become a liability to the City.

    With the impacts from construction and the threat of emerald ash borer the fate of these trees did not look good. Based on these reasons the decision was made to replace these trees now with specimens that are disease resistant and better suited to the environment of the area.

    I appreciated receiving such a thorough reply.

    July 26, 2008
  8. John Thomas said:

    My only hope is that they do not replace them with “stick trees” but something that has a few years of maturity to it.

    Of course, it will be a number of years before the sidewalks are shaded again.

    I understand the reasons. They make sense. I still don’t like to see a mature tree cut down though.

    July 27, 2008
  9. Thanks for that link, Bright — very interesting to learn more about a tree’s root system. I hadn’t known they all stayed so relatively shallow, though on my high school campus we had a beautiful old sequoia, the school’s emblem (see http://www.ma.org), that we were implored to protect by not walking over its roots.

    It is a little hard to see how the infrastructure work could have been done without seriously damaging the trees, so once the work was deemed necessary the trees were probably doomed. (Note the emphasis on the short life expectancy anyway because of the anticipated ash borer problems, but note also that “many,” not all, of the trees were ashes — with no reference to trying to save any that weren’t.) But it is certainly horrifying to lose so many mature trees in one fell swoop.

    July 27, 2008
  10. John Thomas said:

    I am not an arborist, but I can count at least 16-18 rings in that one photo, meaning that they were probably close to 20 years old.

    I assume that the trees that replace these will not be as big?

    July 27, 2008
  11. A couple of things. First, most trees grow anywhere from 1 to 3 feet per year. So, I’ll do the math for ya, a six foot tree will be twenty feet tall, like a two story building high, for 5-14 years. Pines and other softwood trees seem to grow the fastest, but like the old Bradford pears, break easily in a windstorm.

    Secondly, to say that a disease will definitely hit 30 miles away in 4-5 years…I say that most authorities would err on the safe side, to keep their jobs more than to try and save a tree. Couldn’t there be found a solution to the beetle?
    Prolly something simple like some strategically placed borax or olive oil. Or is it only the ignored trees weakened by drought and lack of soil replacement that condemns them to the tyranny of the beetle?

    July 27, 2008
  12. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    I talked to a workman who was directing the felling of the trees on Saturday. He said the sidewalks were being widened (street narrowed) and there would be about 3 trees in place of each of these, with tables for people to sit. He said replacement trees would be 8″ (diameter?), quite large. So let’s see if this actually happens.

    I called Northfield News and this was their understanding of the plans, as well. I do think there was insufficient word to the public ahead of time.

    On the subject of communication, I was startled to see that the two grassy areas in front of Basil’s Pizza and Jerry’s Hair Shop on Water Street were paved over last week with no warning to business owners as far as I know. There were complaints that vehicles and pedestrians with their cig butts and trash had damaged the grass. So this was the City’s answer to it, I suppose. Out of sight, out of mind.

    July 27, 2008
  13. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    Correction–the trees were taken out on Thursday afternoon (Crazy Day), not Saturday.

    July 27, 2008
  14. Andy Alt said:

    I saw a small blurb about those trees in the Northfield News on Saturday. After reading it, I still didn’t understand why they were taken down. “many of the trees were susceptible to infestation by emerald ash borer…” and “Reconstruction of Fifth Street, it’s believed, could also kill the trees…” So… it was ordered to kill them to prevent their death?

    July 28, 2008
  15. The trees will be back like Mary stated.

    The city is taking a hard look at what to put back because we don’t want to end up with another “witch tree” that is next to the First National.

    July 28, 2008
  16. Jean Wakely said:

    The Wakely’s have protested as well. It vaguely reminds me of Bill Cosby’s parenting comment…”I brought you into this world and I can take you out”.

    We are all extremely sad over lost healthy trees, and the asthetics that it impacts. The view out the window of the Luis Enrique Salon bring a tremendous sadness — as that was the most beautiful show of soft foliage.

    However, I have a Vote of NO CONFIDENCE that the new trees will be cared for properly. Just drive down 7th all the way to the pool. The trees were not staked, nor watered, nor guarded from damage from children and animals. They are not trimmed properly to promote strong trunks. The trees that have been broken to the nub have not been replaced and are growing like bushes. What will survive will continue to create problems from lack of proper trimming.

    I asked the city if they were going to protect the young trees being spade in, and they said they had no control over human behavior. I would think a temporary 6′ steel wrap cage would give some control from dog pee and juvenile branch jumping. I know the city expects residence to run out and water the trees in the residental boulevard. But that is a silent wish and not a community education program. I would expect the city would help with the water in the residential boulevard, as well as the citizens. And they do for the first few months. But who will help water when the trees are struggling to survive under fresh cement that leaches lime and asphalt that heats up to 100 degrees? There is a good reason why businesses do not have outside spigots for accessible water.

    My letter of No Confidence has already been sent. See Susan Crow and Bill Metz regarding their petition. More trees are about to fall any day now in front of the Lampe Swanson Morisette firm and Smith’s building.

    The city assures residents in G Block that the trees in the boulevard of the city parking lot are not being cut. They are further back and safe from street repair. The city does have a long term plan to rid all of down town of the ash trees. They said they’ve been working on a plan for the last 5 years. All of Division Street is Ash. ???…

    Last, but not least, they had professional Forrester evaluate the trees. But are the trees being purchased from a local vendor? Were local vendors asked to participate in a bid? And what guarantee for maintenance is the selected vendor offering for the first two years of maintenance?

    July 28, 2008
  17. Joe Wakely said:

    Checking on the internet this morning,I found that there is NO emerald ash bore in Minnesota.The nearest problem being in southern Wisconsin.I think this was just an excuse by the city to destroy these trees for convience sake.They should be ashamed of themselves.If their intent was to make 5th street(the primary access to downtown Northfield) look like a strip mall,they have done quite a good job of it.I spoke with the city on Friday and they told me the trees would be replaced with 2 to 21/2 inch stock.(Twigs) Just about every tree that is along Division street is an ash tree.If their logic prevails,all of these should be cut down in order to save them from dying.Had we known of their intent to to cut these trees,we could have linked arms around them,camera crews from the city in attendence and stopped this madness.

    July 28, 2008
  18. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    Joe was told by the City that the ash trees on 5th would be replaced by 2″ stock? That does not match what the workman said. Let’s insist on 8″, which is what I was told.

    I am surprised that Mary Rossing, candidate for mayor, was satisfied with her understanding of the situation through NDDC (she is director of that group).

    July 28, 2008
  19. Jean Wakely said:

    Ms. Hess, City Engineer, was very specific in describing that 2 to 2 1/2″ circumference saplings were being planted. Then the Saturday NNews said they would be approximately 8-10′ tall (not stating a circumference).

    I personally consulted a local aborist who said, IF the trees have to be hand dug into the sidewalk hole, the circumference cannot be more than 2 to 2 1/2″ for proper fit. If the tree is to be 4″ than it must be spade in by machine. The idea of spading in an 8″ — if you have ever purchased a tree for your own yard — is almost unimaginable. Nice thought. Getting new trees planted properly, under street conditions of asphalt and concrete, is my major concern, WITH proper follow up care. They are gone, so let’s replant correctly. Does anyone know the contracted Nursery?

    WALK THE BIERMAN/NNEWS SIDEWALK YOURSELF. See for yourself how the street/sidewalk project would have indeed compromised the health of the trees had they left them in. Let’s move on to reinstating and maintaining proper saplings and how to keep them growing.

    NOTICE how the loss of a single tree can stir the hearts and tranquility of the community. It is the loss of the peace, the strength, the beauty of nature that causes upset in the hearts of men/women/children. This outcry is the very cry we hear from the rain forrests — the woodlands — the acreages lost to deforrestation. Think about how we have lost a dozen trees, each tree is accountable to our peace of mind and town beautification. Now think about losing an entire rain forrest and what that does to man, animal and insect alike.

    Though I am as shocked as you all — this is the very reason why Carleton and St. Olaf cut their trees in the “night” and “under cover”. Students would rush in and chain themselves to the trees to save them. Every tree on these campuses started with students and groundkeepers planting them. Then they have to maintain them. Then they have to be managed. And they have to be cut down.

    WALK THE STREET — TELL ME THESE TREE WOULD HAVE SURVIVED THE massive digging they are doing to bring us updated water lines. We will enjoy the water, but we won’t SEE the water line. Let’s plant fresh, variety, disease resistant trees and hold the city and arborist accountable for water and maintenance at its very best.

    Folks, they just didn’t want to explain it all. That’s all. Like parents who don’t want to explain the minute details of a root canal to a child before it happens. But in the end, the root canal will solve a great deal of problems down the line.

    July 28, 2008
  20. BruceWMorlan said:

    In Rochester I walk from St Mary’s to Clinic almost daily. For several WEEKS I walked past some large trees with little 8×11 signs taped to them that said (in effect):

    WARNING! These trees are scheduled for removal on or about Month, Day, Year. We appreciate that people love trees, but these are dying and we must remove them. Please do not be shocked when this happens, and …

    So, Rochester made a big deal out of telling the people who saw those trees that they were doomed. I don’t know if Nfld did the same, but it sounds like they did not. Even the best decision explained poorly or not at all can lead to unnecessary trauma to the neighborhood. I join in being dismayed, but won’t grab the ropes, tar and feathers for the decision, just for the process.

    July 28, 2008
  21. Throughout the posts above, the term ‘dying’ is used to describe the trees that were removed. I think it is a good time to remind people that trees are living organisms. Living. One of our local landscapers does a heartfelt separation prayer each time any living item is removed from its home.

    I think that a ceremony should be held each time a leafy member of our community is asked to give up their life early.

    Right now when people look at the place where the trees did grown, they won’t see the new and improved place, they will look with saddened hearts and wounded hearts because they have lost a friend, seemingly taken away by a swift and terrible blow that hacks away at trusted relationships, and that can never be urban landscaped over.

    July 28, 2008
  22. Here is a link to when the public meeting were held on the project, in which they talked about the removal of the trees and replacing them.


    One thing that people are not talking about is the new bases for the trees. When the new trees are planted they will be in a much bigger base then they are now. This will extend the trees life.

    July 28, 2008
  23. kiffi summa said:

    Having been called a “tree-hugger” by an arborist working for the city , who was cutting the big riverside cottonwood down, I hesitate to enter this discussion , especially after the deed is done. (Digression: wouldn’t you think an arborist would define themself as a “tree hugger , rather than use the term as a quasi, or not so quasi, insult?)

    The lesson here is for the city staff: knowing that this is a “very engaged community”, PLEASE learn to deal with issues, that you can anticipate will bring an outcry, RIGHT UP FRONT! The difference could be, if you followed the Rochester model that Bruce quoted in his comment, that you get the discussion before the outcry, and you get to make your case.

    It is abundantly obvious that city staff monitors LG, so use it to your advantage, Staff; get a discussion going about what you perceive as stumbling blocks before both sides are disgruntled. Sorry to “pull rank” ( but remember I’ve been a city employee in Illinois) City Staff works FOR the city, which is nothing but the citizens. A different attitude about the hierarchy can prevent most , not all, of this sort of conflict.

    July 28, 2008
  24. Well said, Kiffi. I agree that it would be helpful if city staff commented on LG when they’re be questioned by the community. I don’t expect them to debate something fiercely, but providing a clear, direct explanation for things like this would be beneficial for everyone.

    July 28, 2008
  25. john george said:

    Sean & Kiffi- I’m not sure LGN is the best forum in which city employees should be commenting. As far as using LGN for additional levels of communication, I think that could be very useful. I, for one, do not subscribe to the newspaper. I do get the issues a few days late, but I don’t use NN as the only source of information. The reason I hesitate to encourage city employees to comment here is that this is an opinion forum. Everyone who comments here has an opinion about how the city conducts it business. If I were a city employee, I would not necessarily be encouraged by some of the opinions expressed here. On the other side, even though we are the city, the employees get their instructions from those managers in charge of them, and they, in turn, from the city council. In any system of authority, there is a proper channel to follow. LGN is not that channel.

    July 28, 2008
  26. David Henson said:

    John, you forgot the City Council works for the citizens so staff are just talking to their superiors, “at ease staff – permission to speak freely”

    July 28, 2008
  27. Griff Wigley said:

    Penny, the reply you got from City Engineer Katy Gehler-Hess was copied/pasted from Al Roder’s Friday Memo (PDF).

    I don’t know whether Katy wrote the original or Joel… but it was published some time last Friday. I didn’t see it till just now.

    Hayes, which PDFs on the consultant’s web site contain language that says the trees would be removed? I do see stuff on planting/adding trees.

    Bruce, your point is exactly my concern. The City knew about this plan to remove the trees for a while and didn’t take simple steps to make sure the public was informed. Rochester’s tactic of tacking up signs on the trees is one of several simple things that could have been done. The blurb in Roder’s Friday memo is only there because people were already calling City Hall to complain.

    As for adding comments to Locally Grown, it would be nice (like City Finance Director Kathleen ‘Mac’ McBride has done) but I can understand their reluctance. Without specific boundaries on participation, online discussions can be a real ‘sinkhole’ on staff time. It would be much better if each department had their own blog, much as the library does (they have 3!) or if each department learned to use the RSS feeds on the city’s $85,000 website for updates (that’s been available for 3 or more years now).

    It also would have been very easy for Katy or Joel to alert the Northfield News, Northfield.org, KYMN, and Locally Grown with a press release/memo a week or two ahead of time.

    I’m irritated that they didn’t alert me because I spent two hours of my own (volunteer) time to videotape and blog their ‘construction coffee’ a month ago. Alas, I’m only a pesky blogger. 🙁

    July 29, 2008
  28. One more thing about roots…depending on the situation, roots can go down, down, down. In Oklahoma, I saw an oil pit filled with water to about 6-8 feet below land level where the big thick roots of post and black oak trees grew right down the side of the wall of the pit. They were still growing after that as they were still thick when the disappeared from view. And by thick I mean 3-4 inches in diameter.

    The soil there is sandy clay. It perks well, meaning it takes a gallon of water less than 8 hours to travel downward through a two foot deep hole.http://www.tahd.org/soil.htm

    July 29, 2008
  29. sorry about that, my putie took a wrong turn and the only thing that would work was the say it button. Any way, the test I described was like the one they did to see if a septic system could be located in our chosen location.
    But there are other perk tests.

    The point is that trees adapt to locations and I suspect that there is more sandy soil near the river than elsewhere in Northfield East. This means that roots may run very deep. It depends. Because Northfield seems to get quite enough rainfall even during what you call ‘drought’, there is no reason for the tree roots to seek out deep water. Near the river, the water table may stay fairly high, too. Don’t know until you dig.

    July 29, 2008
  30. Griff,

    I am not sure if they are in the PDFs but I do recall at the open houses and in the Streetscape Committee meetings there was talk about replacing the trees.

    The point that I was trying to make was that there were multiple places for people to ask questions about the project but as I recall the open houses had very low attendance.

    July 29, 2008
  31. In brighter news on this project, I was down near the site today, and I see the 5th and Water intersection is looking beautiful — the paving stone crosswalks were nearly finished as of this afternoon.

    August 1, 2008
  32. Anne Bretts said:

    I agree with John. Monitoring LGN and every other private blog in town in case someone might have a question isn’t the best use of staff time. And getting several elected officials involved in an online discussion could violate open meeting law provisions. This isn’t a public discussion. If someone from LGN wants to contact the city and ask for a comment and report it here, that’s a different matter.
    Of course you can argue that LGN is the biggest blog, but there are blogs for the colleges and Northfield.org and NDDC and the chamber and others, and all have the potential for online discussions, comments or questions.
    It seems from the city website that there were plenty of meetings with adequate public notice. And it seems obvious that major road construction and trees aren’t a good combination. Still, I know from experience that no matter how much notice is given, people tend not to get involved until their favorite trees, or their driveways or front yards or favorite empty lots are changed.
    I do like Bruce’s reference to the elegant solution found in Rochester. In many other cities, workers use orange spray paint to mark trees weeks or months before they are cut. The paint can be seen from a distance and isn’t susceptible to weather or vandals, so anyone who drives or walks by can see it. Right now, there’s no way to determine who will be upset by the loss of a downtown tree, so no good way to give personal notice.
    It would seem that after several of these events over the last couple of years, people who are concerned about tree removal would get involved early in the process of any construction process.
    Losing large trees is always sad. And perhaps these would have lasted a couple of years longer. But then people would complain that the problem should have been resolved when the street work was done instead of tearing up new pavement to get the roots out and new trees planted.

    August 2, 2008
  33. That video was not worth much. I’d rather see some photos of the interior of the trees.

    August 5, 2008
  34. Jerry Bilek said:

    Looks the agreement to save the trees on 5th from Division to Washington failed. All of the trees have been cut down. Didn’t the city learn from the last round? Walinsky said on the podcast they could have done a better job of notifying the public about the tree removal. Did they tell anyone about this latest removal of trees? I didn’t hear anything.

    August 29, 2008
  35. Griff Wigley said:

    I was surprised, too, Jerry. And I thought the Lampe Law firm made a deal with the city to save the tree outside their ofc. Tracy’s been out of town since Wed. so she’ll be surprised when she returns.

    August 29, 2008
  36. Jerry Bilek said:

    they did make a deal. they agreed to replace the trees if they died in the next five years if the city agreed to leave the trees. they were not all ash trees.

    If the trees had to come down, then they had to come down. But did the city learn nothing from the last round of tree removal. You asked Walinsky if they could have done a better job of notifying the public about the tree removal. I believe he admitted they could have done more. That was about 2 weeks ago. I don’t get it. It is becoming difficult to remain positive about this project. I’ll be happy when it is completed.

    August 29, 2008
  37. Jean Wakely said:

    Has anyone strolled down the new sidewalk beside Bierman’s and looked at the ‘gravel pit’ that will be used to grow the new trees? I found the same thing in my back yard when we were ready to put in new plantings. Contractors are substituing GRAVEL for black dirt. Ask any tree landscaper if you should plant a tree in a pile of gravel or in black dirt. Which one will actually grow?

    Put a new tree in a ball, into a gravel pit under new leaching cement, next to new asphalt , heat up to 150 degrees in the summer heat, and water once a week for three weeks = What do you have? DISATER and a dead tree. No 10 dead trees!


    I have a “no confidence” in the city and it’s contractors to get established trees grown along our new boulevard. WHAT A WASTE OF MONEY AND EFFORT. AND NOW THEY WANT TO ASK FOR MORE MONEY TO ADD ON TO CITY HALL? Where is the fiscal responsiblity????

    August 30, 2008
  38. Not only should the gravel be replaced, but the trees should be substantially more than saplings.

    August 30, 2008
  39. Bright, I don’t know how easily one could put a tree in a small cement hole, but I agree with you guys on the gravel — maybe there’s an excuse, but that sure seems bad.

    August 30, 2008
  40. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    Jean, are you calling the City to ask for black dirt?

    August 31, 2008
  41. Jean Wakely said:

    After reading some information in the NNews, I am wondering if the city has put gravel into the ‘tree pits’ for the DJJD days for people to walk on. Then I hear a rumor that the gravel is a $250 a sq. yd. mix especially designed for tress in boulevards. I’m really confused. So YES, I am calling the city on Tuesday and ask what the gravel is about, and what are the trees being planted in. I’ll let you know what I find out.

    August 31, 2008

Leave a Reply