Six Heritage Trees “Irrevocably Damaged” During Construction

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Six heritage trees along Maine Avenue SW will have to be removed following a construction accident. Photo: A. Lightman

Late last week, six oak trees were destroyed in an apparent construction accident on Maine Avenue SW.

Fort Meyer Construction was contracted by the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) Street Light Division to install a light on the north side of Maine Avenue SW (between Arena Stage and The Banks). In this process, six heritage trees along Maine Ave SW were irrevocably damaged and now must be removed. The trees are extremely large and date from at least the 1960s.

Heritage trees are trees with a circumfrence larger than 100 inches. District law forbids the removal of healthy heritage trees, imposing a fine of at least $300.

While no amount has been announced, Fort Myer Construction is slated to pay a fine for this action.

Casey Trees, a nonprofit dedicated to maintaining and restoring the tree canopy in the District, said that the money that Ft. Meyer construction will pay as a result of these damages will go into the Tree Fund.

Director of Communications and Development of Casey Trees Italia Peretti spoke to the importance of trees. She said not only are they important in providing shade to pedestrians in the heat of summer, they are key anchors in the wharf area which is prone to floods.

“Trees are an intrinsic part of any neighborhood, and the area around the Wharf has experienced a lot of development in recent years,” Peretti said.

“Removing any tree, especially mature ones with large canopy, can have a huge impact on the community,” she said. Peretti said that a lack of shade increases the urban heat island effect, which can increase the local temperature up to 20 degrees.

They also play a significant role in prevention of flooding, Peretti added, to which the wharf area is particularly prone. “Trees can absorb a significant amount of stormwater and when we remove trees and the soil space they live in, we put communities at higher risk for flooding.”

Peretti also emphasized the meaning of this the loss to the community.

“Once a shaded oasis, people walking along this stretch of road will now be subject to a hot, exposed and uncomfortable experience – exactly the opposite of what we want for a “livable” city,” Peretti wrote.

“Washington DC must balance development with preservation of those elements which make any city inviting, pleasing, and a great place to live. Granted, this is not an easy task, but saving trees – especially trees of this stature – should top the list because of all they contribute to our live.”

DC Ward 6 Council member Charles Allen released a statement Monday morning regarding the “irrevocable damage” done to these trees.

“If these trees must be replaced, neither of us will live to see their replacement reach the size of the current trees,” the statement reads. “The likely loss of these trees is of  tremendous concern to the Southwest community, where they have been treasured for generations for  their size, age, beauty, and ecological value.”

Allen also requested a report on destruction of trees in the area over the past three years, that a “substantial fine” be levied against Fort Myer and be deposited into the tree fund and. Finally, he asked that DDOT perform an investigation of the incident and, if the trees are removed, that they are donated to the uses of the Southwest community.

Marc Mandel, Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel to the Fort Myer Construction Corporation, detailed the incident and planned response in a statement to Hill Rag.

“Fort Myer Construction Corporation has been proudly serving the infrastructure needs of the District of Columbia community for nearly 50 years,” Mandel wrote. “While we adhere to the highest standards and place the utmost importance on preserving our natural resources in the District of Columbia, at times, a mistake is made and for that we sincerely apologize.

“In this instance, our Foreperson noticed that the location of the duct-bank to install the electric lines underground was too close to the trees. Our Foreperson received permission to relocate the duct-bank further from the trees, however, during excavation, even at this further distance, 6 trees were compromised.”

The representative said that all  supervisory personnel are being retrained to ensure that situations encountered in the future are handled appropriately and that precious natural resources are protected.

“Moving forward, we shall ensure that any tree roots encountered during  excavation are brought to the attention of the Urban Forestry Division and our crews will await direction prior to proceeding,” Mandel said.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

Sarah Payne is a History and Neuroscience student at The University of Michigan interning with HillRag. She writes for and serves as an assistant news editor for Michigan’s student newspaper, The Michigan Daily. You can reach her at sarahp@hillrag.com.