City to move some trees that riled residents

Ashes that were left where they were cut will be stacked outside floodplain but most of mess will remain

STANDING AMID THE tree trunks, branches and other debris left behind when the City of Port Washington and We Energies cut down dead and dying ash trees on public land behind their house were Donna and Pete Billmann. Photo by Sam Arendt
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

The Port Washington Board of Public Works on Tuesday took steps to alleviate at least some of the fears of residents living along Valley Creek between Parkway Drive and Parkview Lane.

The board agreed to move some of the ash trees the city took down this fall to an area outside the floodplain that’s about halfway up Parkview Lane, near the area where Valley Creek bends to the southwest, contracting with Jim’s Excavating for the work at an estimated cost of $7,000.

The work won’t necessarily address aesthetic concerns, the board said, but it will make it less likely that the dead trees and debris will wash downstream and clog the creek, causing flooding in the area.

“We feel that (flooding) is very unlikely,” Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven said. “We’re not able to provide a guarantee, so we felt the most definitive way to avoid the potential for brush or trees being moved by a flood is to remove them from the floodplain.”

“I think it’s very unlikely any of them (the dead trees) would be taken down the stream,” Ald. Mike Gasper, a member of the board, said.

Residents in the area were shocked when the city and We Energies took down an estimated 350 dead and dying ash trees on city-owned land that City Forester Jon Crain said posed a hazard, and especially when the city did not remove the trees from the area bordering their back yards.

“It’s horrendous. It looks like a tornado came through,” Donna Billmann said last month, adding that the potential for flooding is frightening to residents.

“Every family here is terrified — if it jams up, what’s going to happen,” she said.

Vanden Noven told the board that much of the concern is the aesthetics, something Crain said is unavoidable since the city doesn’t have the equipment or manpower to remove the trees that have been cut.

Board member Phil Bruno asked if the city could advertise the trees as free firewood, but Crain said there’s no way for anyone to get to them without going through private property.

“To get the material out is next to impossible,” Crain said. 

While he is confident the trees and brush would not be taken downstream, Crain said, he recommended hiring Jim’s Excavating “to eliminate the possibility of anything happening.”

Board member James Haley said he understands residents’ concerns, saying, “It’s not a very good look in their yards.”

Crain said the city will plant seedlings along the creek to help with the aesthetics, noting that it will take decades for the trees to break down.  

“It doesn’t look good, but this is the worst it’s going to look,” Crain said, adding that safety trumps aesthetics. “But I know what we did was the right decision.”

The emerald ash borer killed the trees, which were becoming top heavy and were likely to fall into residents’ yards and perhaps, on those residents, so they had to come down.

The city left the trees as whole as possible and piled them as far from the creek as they could, Crain said.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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