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Dear Mayor Johnston,
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On behalf of the Covington Tree Preservation Board, I respectfully submit this letter to you and the Covington City Council in order to express our concerns about several topics, the first being the installation of string-lights on and in the street trees around the square, the second being the lack of a tree replacement plan, and the third being the lack of funding for tree plantings.

The Covington Tree Preservation Board was created in 1992 when Covington was designated a Tree City USA by the National Arbor Day Foundation. Our mission is to ensure that trees in Covington have an advocate for their care and replacement as well as to help educate our citizens about the true value of trees. Over the past 21 years we have actively promoted Arbor Day events and tree planting programs as well as the proper maintenance of our existing trees.

If you recall, our board has previously made you aware of our stance regarding lights in and on the trees around the square via a letter May 1, 2012, and that such installations will not only be detrimental to the trees but also a long-term maintenance problem that will require absolute diligence in regular adjustments to the wires so as not to girdle the trees. Obviously, that letter was ignored as more lights were installed. Our concern stays with the lack of care given to these trees by various contractors the city has hired.

The City has paid nearly $250,000 over the past five years reconstructing the tree wells, planting new trees and installing an irrigation system. Electrical contractors have destroyed the irrigation lines when installing the outlets that you requested, and the lighting contractors have been using the canopy of the trees to prop their ladders up wile stringing lights through the young branches.

Street trees are already in a tough environment, surrounded by pavement and compacted soil. We believe that to add this additional stress to the trees will certainly guarantee a reduced life expectancy and additional expense for the city of Covington.

As our urban forest ages, it is important to be able to plan for the future by replacing trees, which have either been removed, need removal or need supplemental care to ensure their health for future generations’ enjoyment. The City has never had an identified plan for tree replacement; replacement was always completed on a case-by-case basis. The time has come to stop planning by the seat of our pants and create a plan that all citizens can see and support. Such a plan would also ensure these activities are adequately budgeted.

With the recent maintenance acquisition of the Square Park and the continued use of the park as an events space, attention to the trees, especially the magnolias, is imperative.

I shudder at the thought of having one of those large limbs fall and injure our worse, kill, a bystander. Not only that, but when the time comes to replace one or two of those historic trees, a plan needs to be in place to ensure future generations have a shaded public space to enjoy all that our downtown offers.

The square is not the only place where attention is needed. There are multiple street trees lining picturesque Floyd Street that need removal, but what good is removing the longstanding hardwood pillars of our community if we don’t have a substantial replacement ready? Academy Springs Park is another example. Many of the pines which have rooted in the park are of the age and height where they begin to experience dieback, and the previous year’s droughts have only expedited this process. Could you imagine families enjoying the park without a canopy of trees providing shade? I cannot.

I am proud that Covington has been able to weather the economic downturn better than most jurisdictions; however, budgetary cutbacks are a reality and, as a lifelong citizen of Covington, I can appreciate the fiscal responsibility the City Council has shown. However, the Tree Preservation Budget has been slashed by 40 percent over the previous year’s budget and that has led to a lack of maintenance and improvement to our urban forestry.

In the past, specially trained city employees would often work overtime in order to prune, water, mulch, remove and plant trees. Unfortunately, due to the cut in our budget, this is no longer feasible, and the effects are visible throughout the city.

If the City Council cannot restore the Tree Preservation Budget to what it once was to ensure the health of our trees, then I implore you to consider hiring a professional arborist contractor to perform these general maintenance functions on a quarterly basis.

I hope this letter helps you and the council reach a decision to protect our investment and lay the foundation for our future urban forest. I am confident you won’t regret it when we all can enjoy the shade from these trees for many years to come.

Sincerely, Loy Summers, chairman, the Covington Tree Preservation Board;

Walter Camp, Betty Bellairs, Marshall Ginn, Laurie Oliver, Carol Veliotis