July 23, 2008

Midtown Omaha Eager to Replace Lost Trees

By Karen Sloan, Omaha World-Herald, Neb.

Jul. 23--Neighborhood associations in midtown aren't waiting around for nature to run its course on trees damaged by recent storms.

They aren't waiting for the city to take the lead in replacing them, either.

The Midtown Neighborhood Alliance has kicked off an initiative to assess tree damage caused by the storms and to seek money to help replace them.

Midtown was one of the areas hardest hit by the June 27 storm that blew into town with winds as high as 115 mph. The alliance is made up of 14 neighborhood associations, many of which cover older areas with large trees lining streets.

"It was shocking how much the storm devastated the neighborhoods," said Jim Farho, president of the alliance. "It really changes the dynamic."

Officials with the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum and the Nebraska Forest Service said there are more opportunities for community groups like the Midtown Neighborhood Alliance to get involved in tree replanting this year because more grant money is available than in the past.

Between $700,000 and $800,000 is available to Nebraska communities for tree replanting as part of the ReTree Nebraska initiative, said Eric Berg, a community forester with the Nebraska Forest Service.

"I think we will have a pretty high demand for our grants this year," Berg said. "This just scratches the surface of what is needed."

Eastern and central Nebraska have seen more tree damage in the past two years than is typical, said Justin Evertson, assistant director of community programs for the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum.

Dundee-Memorial Park Neighborhood Association President Marty Myers said silver maples accounted for many of the destroyed trees in her area.

"We lost entire trees -- big trees -- this time around," she said.

But homeowners shouldn't be afraid to replant out of fear that harsh weather will destroy the new trees, Evertson said.

"If people pick the right tree and plant it properly, they can eliminate 90 percent of the worry about it coming down in a storm," he said.

Evertson and Berg recommend that homeowners hire licensed arborists to assess storm-damaged trees.

Farho said the Midtown Neighborhood Alliance is considering applying for money available through ReTree Nebraska and for other federal and private funding. Mayor Mike Fahey's spokesman, Joe Gudenrath, said the city has committed to assist the group in securing grant money for the tree project.

One option may be funding from the Omaha Public Power District's Tree Promotion Program. That program offers up to $2,500 to nonprofits, community groups, schools and service organizations to plant trees on public property, or property owned by the organization that is planting.

Funding is also available through the Community Enhancement Program coordinated by the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum and Nebraska Forest Service at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The program funds tree planting and landscaping that improves the state's public streets, highways, entryways, parking lots and trails along parks, schools, fairgrounds, college campuses, libraries and other public properties.

The Transportation Enhancement Program of the Nebraska Department of Roads funds the program. For information, contact Sue Kohles at 402-472-2971 or arboretum.unl.edu.

Farho said the first step for the midtown alliance's initiative will be to assess the damage.

"We're trying to figure out what the number is. Is it 5,000 damaged trees? Is it 20,000?" he said.

Once the damage is assessed and funding is secure, tree removal and replanting can occur, said Farho, who noted that only sturdy tree varieties would be considered.

Omaha is also evaluating tree damage and removing trees, said Parks Director Steve Scarpello. City workers who are also arborists are looking at trees in city parks and on city rights of way to identify those that need to be taken down. Trees to be removed are being marked with orange paint, Scarpello said.

Omaha already has a $315,000 contract with a private firm to remove at least 408 trees, Scarpello said. Most of that cost will be paid by the federal and state governments because the Federal Emergency Management Agency declared Omaha a disaster area.

"We're going to be doing tree work for quite a while," Scarpello said.

--Contact the writer: 444-1022, [email protected]


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