Blaine meets with neighbors outraged at tree clearing

Hagen-Eric-140x140
Staff Writer
I cover the cities of Andover, Blaine and Ramsey. I have worked at ABC Newspapers since August 2007.

Kevin Groves shared photos of a dense forest along a trail in the summer and trees covered with snow in the winter to show what the area by his home used to look like.

Blaine residents raised concerns about trees cleared by their homes in the Blaine Wetland Sanctuary, which they thought would not be touched. They were invited to come to Blaine City Hall on Feb. 8 to speak with the Blaine City Council and Natural Resources Conservation Board. All piles of downed trees were expected to be removed by Feb. 11, but no more trees will be cut down in this area, according to the city.Photo by Eric Hagen
Blaine residents raised concerns about trees cleared by their homes in the Blaine Wetland Sanctuary, which they thought would not be touched. They were invited to come to Blaine City Hall on Feb. 8 to speak with the Blaine City Council and Natural Resources Conservation Board. All piles of downed trees were expected to be removed by Feb. 11, but no more trees will be cut down in this area, according to the city.Photo by Eric Hagen

Then he shared pictures of the aftermath of a tree clearing project the city authorized for a wetland restoration.

“We had no idea this was going to happen. It was a shock,” Groves said.

Blaine residents from Naples Circle, 117th Lane and Petersburg Street along with others wanting to show solidarity with their neighbors came to Blaine City Hall Feb. 8 to voice their displeasure over what transpired in January when a large number of trees were removed from the Blaine Wetland Sanctuary.

The residents were assured by their elected officials and city staff that no more trees would be cut down in this northern area of the 500-acre Blaine Wetland Sanctuary.

Aaron Hall said people who bought homes in this neighborhood relied on their real estate agents, the home builders, the city and the newspapers. He noted the irony of his development being called Aspen Woods.

“It had never been said there would be clear cutting,” Hall said.

Demands from neighborhood

Rick Holmes called for the city to hire an independent consultant to determine if any water could intrude onto their properties from the wetland now that so many trees have been removed. He wants the city to plant more native species that can absorb water and taller plants so they can regain some of the privacy they lost.

here’s an area off Naples Street where more trees were cleared for a wider path where vehicles would enter when doing any work with the 500-acre wetland sanctuary. Holmes and some of his neighbors would like to see that go elsewhere because they are concerned about the added traffic, and some in the crowd voiced their disapproval when the possibility of a fence blocking this entry to unauthorized vehicles was suggested by the city.

And the city should pay for all of this work, Holmes said. He alluded to the $7 million estimate Jim Hafner, city stormwater manager, has given on how much the city could receive over time for this wetland restoration.

We’re going to lose value on this property. There’s no question,” Holmes said.

The council agreed to having another meeting to follow up on the resident’s requests.

Mohammmad Odeh, originally from Jordan, said he learned to not trust public servants in that country and expected more when he moved to the United States 20 years ago.

Odeh was working from home on a day when trees were being cut down. Trees that took decades to grow were each cut down in less than a minute.

“It just killed me,” he said.

Council Member Julie Jeppson said she was disheartened to hear Odeh say he is distrustful of his public servants.

“I will work hard on trying to build that trust back because it’s so valuable,” she said.

Going forward

Jeppson and Council Member Dave Clark, whom residents thanked for their response and for helping to stop the tree clearing, said the topic they want to discuss first at a March council retreat will be how to better communicate with the public.

lark said he still likes the overall vision of the Blaine Wetland Sanctuary, but said the city needs to do a better job of explaining the wetland banking program.

“I think there’s a perception that we’re selling the trees for cash, and that’s not the case,” Clark said.

Hafner said the whole point of the wetland sanctuary project is to “re-encourage growth of native plants” that have been shielded from the sun for years because of these trees. He said seeds for endangered species such as pale green orchid and twisted yellow-eyed grass are in the Blaine Wetland Sanctuary.

A trail to the east toward Lexington Avenue is now under construction and will be completed by this summer, said Hafner.

The city is creating a new map without any wetland boundary lines and only the proposed trails. Hafner believes there was some confusion on where the new trails would go.

The city’s wetland restoration plans going forward in this northern 180-acre area would focus on keeping out invasive species. Hafner said this could include prescribed burns, but these burns would be far from any homes and would only happen when the prevailing winds are blowing away from the neighborhood, which he said would be notified.

Within the next few years, Blaine will consider construction of another trail between 109th Avenue and North Oaks West Park. Hafner said the city has not analyzed whether further wetland restoration could take place in that area, but said the city will notify residents before any project moves forward.

Hafner said the city could have done a better job of explaining that wetland restoration would mean clearing trees, and he apologized to the neighbors that there was not more notification.

But in echoing comments the mayor made at the meeting, Hafner said the city has for years published the fact that they were going to be doing a wetland restoration. He encouraged residents to call him anytime they want more information.

“This was always wetland. We’re not creating something new. We’re restoring it to its original condition,” Hafner said.

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