Proposed tree removals at Franklin library irk some

By Jason Pullman
Des Moines, Iowa (February 24, 2010)- Opinions differ on whether 11 mature trees on public property should be removed to accommodate a solar energy system at the soon-to-be renovated Franklin Avenue Library on Des Moines’ northwest side. “I’m not sure I’m comfortable with the idea that every time someone’s putting up a solar panel we’re going to set a precedent that we’re going to cut down trees that are in the way of the sun,” said Loyd Ogle, a member of the city’s Parks and Recreation Board.

Ogle last night voted against a proposal to cut down seven pine trees at Glendale Cemetery that are just behind the library at 5000 Franklin Ave. The majority of the board members approved the tree removals on the condition that a restoration plan- at the library’s expense- be developed to compensate for the loss of the trees and improve the cemetery “environmentally and aesthetically.”
Engineers working on the design of the library project said the trees would prevent adequate sunlight from reaching solar collectors and panels placed on the roof of the building. Four oak trees on library property are also set to be cut down.
“The concept that you can remove mature oaks, somehow replace them, put up some solar panels and have everything be equal is fundamentally flawed,” said CJ Stephens, a tree conservation advocate who lives in the Waterbury neighborhood. “We have to come up with designs that respect the costs of removing large trees that trap so much carbon and produce so much oxygen.”
The solar power plans were made possible by a $2.2 million state I-JOBS grant that will focus on green, energy-saving features that city officials say will dramatically reduce operating costs. A “platinum” rating- the highest certification available- from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, program will be pursued.
No one is happy about the tree removals, but proponents of the idea think the benefits of solar energy and replacement plantings will outweigh the costs of the lost trees. Park board members wrestled with whether to support the tree removals, and asked for more time to consider the proposal. But a tight timeline on the library’s construction project required the board’s decision last night. Bids for the project have been solicited, and the library board is expected to award the construction contract at their meeting on March 23.
The state grant gave a boost to a project that experienced a setback in August when construction bids came in well over the original budget. The grant also required a significant amount of re-design work to incorporate solar energy into the project and pursue the platinum LEED certification that was a condition of receiving the state money.
“I’m not happy with it,” City Councilman Skip Moore, Des Moines’ former municipal arborist, said today. “I think it was poor planning.”
Moore was critical of himself for not investigating the issue further. Moore and the rest of the City Council this week gave unanimous approval to the contract with the state for the I-JOBS grant. “I’m hoping in the future the city will do a better job of considering trees in building plans,” Moore said. “Every time something like this happens, I hope we can learn from it and turn it into a positive.”
Park board members last night asked whether the solar panels and collectors could be located anywhere other than the library’s roof to spare the trees. City officials and consultants said other options were examined, but placing the equipment on the ground would elevate risks of damage and vandalism.
Related Resources:
Proposed tree removals at Franklin library irk some
Environmental Grudge Match: Solar Panels vs. Trees