The Blaine City Council has informally set a $100,000 budget for helping a neighborhood that lost a lot of trees earlier this year during a project in the Blaine Wetland Sanctuary.
The council must still approve any expenditures, but direction given at a June 8 council workshop gives a neighborhood task force a clear understanding of what their city leaders are willing to spend to rectify the situation.
In early January, a city-hired contractor started taking down trees.
According to Blaine Stormwater Manager James Hafner, the city’s goal was to restore the Blaine Wetland Sanctuary to its original state. This included removing trees so that the shade and the leaves and wood that fall from the trees would not make it difficult for native plant species to survive.
The 500-acre Blaine Wetland Sanctuary and is located west of Lexington Avenue and between 109th and 125th avenues. The city does not have a count on how many trees were removed, but the homes that were most affected are along 117th Lane, 120th Circle, Naples Circle and Petersburg Court in the northwest area of the sanctuary.
Following a Feb. 8 meeting with residents, the council decided to establish a Blaine Wetland Sanctuary Neighborhood Committee. It includes six residents from the areas most impacted by the tree removal, the mayor and two council members, two people from the Blaine Natural Resources Conservation Board and four city staff.
Mayor Tom Ryan said the council made it clear during the June 8 workshop that $100,000 is the maximum budget. The committee will need to offer a recommendation on how to spend the money before the council gives a final authorization.
“Sometimes I think it’s a little excessive but we didn’t do we should have done,” Ryan said.
The mayor said the city for years has been generally talking about the wetland restoration but said it was not clearly explained what this would entail and he said the city should have met with the neighborhoods bordering the sanctuary to explain what would be happening.
Council Member Julie Jeppson, who serves with Council Member Dave Clark on this committee, said once the trees mature it will add to the beauty of the wetland sanctuary and it will give the most affected residents some of the natural screening they lost when trees were removed on the edge of the Blaine Wetland Sanctuary.
Jeppson said $100,000 “is a reasonable amount.”
“I think a lot can happen with that amount of money,” she said.
The big question is how should the budget be allocated. Blaine staff has said a maintenance access is needed near the corner of Naples Circle and 117th Lane for the few times a year someone needs to go into the Blaine Wetland Sanctuary. City staff have said management of the wetland will continue over the next five years to accomplish the plan approved by the regulatory agencies. This spring and summer, crews will be out applying herbicides to control the invasive species. Prescribed burns will also happen at some times.
The city has proposed putting up a gate to prevent the general public from driving into the environmentally sensitive areas, but Ryan said the council was told that this alone could cost about $40,000.
Public Services Manager Robert Therres presented a plan at the June 8 workshop that is estimated to cost between $90,000 and $95,000. This includes the gate and additional trees. New trees could be planted just beyond the back yards of about 20 homes along 117th Lane, Naples Circle and Petersburg Court. But the landscaping plan includes planting new trees along the north end of the trail loop further into the wetland sanctuary. This would provide additional screening for other residents who were also impacted by the January tree removal.
Peggy Kunkel, one of the six residents serving on the committee, said it is hard to put a value on the trees lost. She said they will not be able to replace all the trees that were cut down but said this will help.
“All we can do is move forward,” Kunkel said. “We just hope this doesn’t happen to another neighborhood.”
Kunkel said the committee has been giving its input to the council and city staff on how it can do a better job of communicating with residents for projects going forward to avoid what happened in this case.
The city will look to its Blaine Parks Commission to develop rules for people using the Blaine Wetland Sanctuary. Although there was already a trail loop from East Lake Park near these neighborhoods in the northwest corner of the sanctuary, there was no trail to get to the east end of the sanctuary off Lexington Avenue.
The city posted a June 6 update on its website that the new boardwalk that will enable someone to walk from East Lake Park to Lexington Avenue is nearing completion. A new parking lot off Lexington Avenue across the street from the Lexington Athletic Complex is scheduled to be completed by early July.