July 30, 2008

City of Portland Seeks Firm for Planting Project

By Sam Bennett

The Portland Bureau of Environmental Services is looking to substantially increase the city's tree canopy.

The bureau has issued a request for proposals to hire a firm that can organize an $11 million effort to add thousands of trees to the Portland area and dramatically improve the tree canopy.

The tree-planting campaign will include 50,000 street trees and 30,000 to 40,000 yard trees over the next five years.

"This is a new type of project, that is large and ambitious," said James Allison of the Bureau of Environmental Services.

The RFP is unique because the program could use firms with a wide range of expertise, according to Allison. The winning firm will need an understanding of tree planting codes, grant writing, volunteer recruitment, nursery experience, and urban forest and tree planting monitoring.

To date, he said the bureau has received responses from landscape architecture firms, environmental consulting firms, public relations and marketing firms, and non-profit community organizations.

The tree planting initiative is part of the city's Grey to Green campaign, which the city council passed in May. The campaign provides funding for stormwater management improvements such as green streets, ecoroofs on city structures and removing invasive plant species.

"The (Grey to Green) project allows us to look at drainage areas and better capture stormwater by having a canopy over impervious surfaces," said Allison.

The tree campaign also is unusual in that it will involve plantings tens of thousands of trees not only on grass strips, but also on privately owned properties. The trees will have the effect of soaking up millions of gallons of water each year, meaning that less water will drain off properties and end up in the stormwater system.

"The city does not normally work on private property," said Allison, describing why it is important to have an outside firm oversee the project.

The bureau will be looking for a firm that has a proven track record of community organizing and outreach. Over the course of five years, the firm that wins the contract will need to write grants for additional funding from private sources, such as local corporations and foundations.

"All that water drains off private property and ends up in the gutter, and (then) drains to the sewage treatment plant at a tremendous cost to the rate payers," Allison said. Trees on the grass strips will also provide "traffic calming," he said.

The city will work with the winning firm to identify target areas for community outreach, and will instruct the firm on which neighborhoods will receive the trees. The firm and the city will coordinate on which species of trees are appropriate for different areas, and the firm will help the city negotiate the best price for the trees. In addition, the winning firm will organize community planting events and stewardship services.

The RFP states that the city is looking for "low-cost/high-value solutions that involve volunteers, neighbors, community groups and educational/vocational programs that will provide planting and stewardship of trees at a low cost to the city."

Allison said the city has not determined the amount of the fees to be paid to the winning bidder, because the complete scope of the services needed is not known. Responses to the RFP are due to the Bureau of Environmental Services by 4 p.m. Thursday.

Originally published by Sam Bennett.

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