Update – 6.16.2022

Thank you to all of the community members who shared their thoughts with Ramsey County about the Cleveland Avenue trees.  We were overwhelmed with the conversations that were had over the last few months and appreciate those who wrote to their representatives, signed the two petitions and showed up for the Procession for the Trees last Saturday.  

Tree removal for Phase 1 of this project happened on Tuesday, June 14, but the Community Council is still advocating for changes in the Phase 2 removal of trees scheduled for next year and has submitted a Petition for Environmental Assessment on the project.  In order to stay updated on this situation, please join us at our Environment Committee meetings, Board meetings, or on this page.   


Update – 6.13.2022

Letters sent to the Members of the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners

June 13, 2022 

Re: Request for a Vote to Reconsider the Cleveland Avenue Reconstruction 

Dear Ramsey County Commissioners: 

I write on behalf of the Saint Anthony Park Community Council (“SAPCC”) to formally request that the Ramsey County (“County”) Board of Commissioners (“Board”) reconsider its approval of the Cleveland Avenue Reconstruction at the Board’s June 14, 2022 meeting. 

The basis for this request is set forth in detail below and in the attachments to this letter. 

It is important for the Board to understand that the current uproar over the Cleveland Avenue reconstruction is not a typical case of a community griping because it didn’t get its way on a project. The uproar is because the County’s community engagement process failed and because the County failed to consider the significant environmental impact of this project. 

County Failures with Respect to Community Engagement Process 

The County’s initial community engagement process completely failed for two reasons: 

1. County staff or consultants did not assess tree impacts sufficiently at the time of community engagement in 2019 and 2020, and this led to County staff effectively misleading the community about the project’s effect on the extent of tree removal. The number of trees to be removed nearly tripled, from 56 to 157 — the great majority of them mature, healthy trees. 

2. Then, to make matters worse, in 2021 and 2022, staff completely failed to inform the community of crucial changes to the plan, despite repeated written requests from a SAPCC representative to staff for updates over those 1.5 years. SAPCC representatives (and all community members) assumed nothing substantial had changed until the 157 trees were marked for removal, because we heard nothing to the contrary from the County. We have supporting documentation of this. 

These failures do not comport with the American Society of Civil Engineering Code of Ethics (https://www.asce.org/career-growth/ethics/code-of-ethics) or the County’s standards for community engagement and transparency. They should not be acceptable to the Board or to the Metropolitan Council.

The only way to honor its responsibility to its constituents is for the County to rescind its approval for this project so that it can be redesigned with meaningful community input. 

County Failures with Respect to Assessing the Environmental Impact of this Project The County failed to consider the significant environmental impacts that this project will have. Those impacts are set forth in SAPCC’s Petition for an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (“EAW Petition”), which will be filed on Monday, June 13, 2022; and in the letter from SAPCC Environment Committee Co-Chair Renoir Gaither to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (attaching a June 12, 2022 letter from Dr. Elaine Evans with respect to the impact on the federally protected rusty patched bumblebee). 

The Project Should Be Reconsidered to Permit Time for Community Involvement and Environmental Assessment 

Reconsidering the Cleveland project now would give time for it to be reengineered to narrow the street design by removing the on-street unprotected bike lanes, while keeping an off-street shared-use path, which is appropriate for all ages and abilities. 

With an 8 – 10′ narrower street and a different design that does much more to take trees into consideration — still balanced with utilities replacement and other needs of the reconstruction — the project will have a chance to save a much greater number of mature trees, compared to the current plan. The redesign will also permit the County to assess how best to protect the habitat of the rusty patched bumblebee, a federally endangered and protected species. 

We recognize that redesigning and reengineering the Cleveland project will push the project into a new construction year. But the violation of any semblance of honest community engagement about the project’s effect on tree removal — especially as hundreds of trees are being removed elsewhere in Saint Paul due to the emerald ash borer — and the significant risk of destroying the habitat of a federally protected species cannot be allowed as a final outcome in this matter. 

I am happy to discuss this information with you: I can be reached at jessica@sapcc.org. Sincerely, 

Jessica Willman 

St. Anthony Park Community Council Interim Executive Director 

Attachments: 

SAPCC Petition for an Environmental Assessment Worksheet 

Letter from Renoir Gaither to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, including the June 11, 2022 letter from Dr. Elaine Evans with respect to rusty patched bee habitat


Update – 6.1. 2022

After the May 19th meeting (see original update, below), the St. Anthony Park Community Council received the following email from Ethan Osten, aide to Commissioner MatasCastillo, Ramsey County Commissioner.

May 27th, 2022 | 5:17pm

Thanks for your patience waiting for an update on this. Here is our update regarding the specific requests we heard at the meeting last week. If there were other ideas or requests that we missed, please let us know:

The county has heard about a wide range of issues from many different community members throughout the process, and will continue to make project adjustments accordingly. First and foremost, the county Is not removing trees on Cleveland this week or next week (the week of May 29-June 4). When trees are removed, it will be during normal business hours.  It should also be noted that the County has directed the contractor to build the project in two phases, and to limit tree removal to the scope of each construction phase.

The list below is a set of requests made by the Saint Anthony Park Community Council (SAPCC) at a meeting with Ramsey County and City of St Paul on May 19, 2022.  The County met with the contractor on May 26, 2022.  We have included responses/commitments to the community requests.  There are some items that involve potential risks, costs and liabilities that need more analysis. Those items will be answered  by June 3.

1.      Make small changes to the 2022 implementation when possible to save trees, including, but not limited to the 190-year-old bur oak on the east side of Cleveland at Knapp, a century-old oak on the west side midway between Carter and Doswell, and two trees on Scudder.

We are reviewing the list of trees in the first phase of the project (2022) provided by SAPCC (26 trees) and are analyzing the design and impacts to these trees to see if any of them could be preserved and given the chance to survive.  We will provide a list of the 26 trees with an analysis of design impacts and risks/liabilities.  The contractor is open to field changes to address these issues as directed by the County. 

2.      Review which other trees may be left in place, despite root damage by construction. 

As stated above, we will start with an analysis for the 26 trees provided by SAPCC for the first phase of the project.  We will work on the second phase (2023), using a similar methodology before next year’s construction. We will apply a lens of costs, impacts to design, as well as risks and potential liabilities.

3.      Explore transplanting young trees when possible.

The City, along with consulted foresters and arborists, does not recommend transplanting trees as summer is here and may not be viable to transplant during summer heat.  New trees have a better chance at surviving.  We will address replanting as each phase of the project is completed.

4.      Wood to be reused for furniture or other creative uses, where possible. Some slices will be retained for climatological or historical preservation.

The County will work with local vendors and the contractor about options for utilizing wood from removed trees.  The County is referring interested vendors to the general contractor.

5.      No trees from the 2023 phase (north of Buford) will be cut down in 2022 to allow more time to assess whether more can be saved, and generally to keep them alive and growing as long as possible.

The contractor has been directed to limit tree removal to stay within the scope of each of the two construction phases.

6.      Possible redesign of some elements of the 2023 phase that affect significant trees will be considered, particularly the location of the storm water retention area on the east side north of Folwell relative to the ancient oak trees and the retaining walls on both sides north of Folwell. For example, bike lanes could possibly be combined with the multi-use path and sidewalk temporarily to preclude need for retaining walls.

Over the course of the next year, the County will work on the design elements of the second phase of the project; specifically, the area where there is a stormwater treatment facility and the retaining wall areas (as referenced in the community request).  IF there is  potential to adjust the design we will investigate that option.   

7.      Commitment to replace 55 trees in boulevards and to modify replanting specifications and inspection to give trees the best chance at survival. The County is willing to consider watering them. County will seek SAPCC guidance on which tree species to plant. 

We will increase the number of trees we replant as part of the project.  There were 90 trees removed from Right-of-Way acquired from the U of M, and the U of M has committed to developing a re-planting plan once the project is complete. We will increase the number of trees re-planted under our project to 70, so as to attain a one-to-one replacement of all trees.  Further, our re-planting plan will look at species diversification as well as mixing tree size and type (overstory, ornamental, etc.).  We are open to recommendations or requests from the SAPCC on re-planting plans.

8.      City of St. Paul will obtain a bulk estimate for televising sanitary sewer lines as an option for homeowners to use existing pipes in lieu of replacement, which requires trenching and tree removal. Cost to be borne by homeowners (through assessments). There are currently 9 buildings where tree removal is ascribed to sewer replacement, each with a tree between 70 and 100 years old. If other boulevard trees can be retained through changes to the design/engineering, this number could increase. (More information can be found here. If there is enough room between the tree and property line and the property owner would like to take on the expense of rerouting to save the tree, they should contact the Ramsey County project manager, Brian Essler at 651-248-0175 as soon as possible.)

The county will contact each of the 9 residential properties where tree removal is ascribed to sewer replacement.  The county will make sure the residents/property owners are aware of their options and the potential for associated risks, liabilities and costs. These residents/property owners have three options:

  • They can elect not to have their service lines replaced or lined.  They would need to fill out a waiver and file with the City that states they are electing not to have their service line worked on.
  • The contractor can televise their line and see if lining may be viable if the property owners choose to explore the lining option.  Lining is not always effective on service lines due to their small diameter and potential poor condition due to age.  If lining is ineffective, their line would need to be replaced at additional expense.  Residents electing the lining option would need to obtain a permit from the City prior to lining taking place.
  • Replacement of the sewer service line and removal of the old service line.  This provides the best solution to property owners for continued sanitary sewer service.

The first two options could potentially save the tree in front of a given property.  The third option would require tree removal.  The County will contact each resident and explain the three options they have and leave the decision up to each property owner.

The Executive Committee of the St. Antony Park Community Council approved the following email in response:

May 31st, 2022 | 3:16pm

Thank you for all of this. We hope as many of the 26 trees south of Buford as possible can be saved within this plan, and a way can be devised to save almost all of the trees north of Buford during the 2023 phase. 

That said, the St. Anthony Park Community Council maintains its strong preference for a reengineered street plan on an 8-foot-narrower roadbed (we attach our presentation from our May 19 meeting which made this case), which would clearly not require as many “edge case” decisions adjacent to trees.

We understand the potential for contractor liability if the project is delayed for reengineering, but we question the County’s contention that the federal funding would be endangered by asking for a second extension through the Metropolitan Council’s Transportation Advisory Board allocation process.

The TAB’s reason for existence is to create and maintain transportation infrastructure, and if there was ever a county road that needed to be rebuilt, it’s Cleveland Avenue. At the same time, however, the Metropolitan Council only recently launched its Growing Shade calculator (https://metrotransitmn.shinyapps.io/growing-shade), highlighting the need for and the Met Council’s commitment to maintaining and increasing our regional tree canopy. 

As it turns out, Cleveland Avenue is a boundary between two county tracts that result in different priorities in the Growing Shade calculator. West of Cleveland, the priority is to “Conserve shade trees,” the exact opposite of what this project will do. East of Cleveland, the priority is “Environmental Justice” — on a range of 1 to 10, this tract rates a 9.79 in the need for EJ! The eastern tract also rated nearly as high a priority on Climate Change and Public Health as well. (See the attached screen snapshot.)

According to an email from Ellen Esch, senior data scientist for the Met Council, the tract to the east “has some of the highest need for advancing environmental justice across the region. Not only does that area already have lower than average tree cover (~16%), but there are more residents in this area who are low-income (52% of residents in this area have an income <185% of the poverty threshold versus a regional average of 19%) and who identify as a person of color (83% of residents in this area identify as a person of color versus a regional average of 27%).” 

The urban heat island affects those at home, but also pedestrians, bicyclers, those waiting for the bus. Removing so many tree along this important corridor will significantly increase health risks and the quality of life of people who use and live by this street.

The County should balance the need for a street rebuild with the increasing recognition of the value of trees for climate and human health, even if it means delaying the project one year. We also think the TAB, as part of the Met Council, will recognize the value of preventing more than 100 healthy, long-lived trees from being destroyed (see the attached “Visualizing” PDF for a birds eye view of the impact). 

The Met Council’s Growing Shade site quotes Karen Zumach, Director of Community Forestry for Tree Trust and president of the Minnesota Shade Tree Advisory Committee: “We upkeep our roads, streetlights, and our sidewalks,” explains Zumach. “I think we have to think about trees as infrastructure that needs care and maintenance in the same way.”

Even as we look forward to hearing details on the 26 trees this week, the St. Anthony Park Community once again urges the County to reengineer the project and maintain our community’s tree canopy.

Pat Thompson – St. Anthony Park Community Council Transportation Committee co-chair

Michael Russelle – St. Anthony Park Community Council Environment Committee co-chair

Jessica Willman – SAPCC Acting Executive Director


Cleveland Avenue meeting between SAPCC and representatives of Ramsey County and City of Saint Paul

May 19, 2022

Attending:

  • County Commissioner Trista MatasCastillo
  • Ethan Osten (aide to Commissioner MatasCastillo)
  • Matt Hill (aide to Commissioner Toni Carter)
  • Doua Yang (aide to City Councilmember Mitra Jalali)
  • Ramsey County Interim Director of Public Works Brian Isaacson
  • Project manager for the Cleveland Avenue design process Nick Fischer
  • Ramsey County Deputy Director of Public Works John Mazzitello
  • Ramsey County Deputy Manager of Economic Growth and Community Investment Johanna Berg
  • Director of Transportation Planning for St. Paul Public Works Reuben Collins
  • SAPCC Environment Committee Co-Chair Michael Russelle
  • SAPCC Transportation Committee Co-Chair Pat Thompson
  • SAPCC Community Organizer Jessica Willman

At Ramsey County’s invitation, the St. Anthony Park Community Council had a meeting with representatives from the County and the City of Saint Paul regarding the proposed elimination of more than 150 trees during the reconstruction of Cleveland Avenue. Residents had awoken to the pink-tagging of these trees in late April and raised concerns via the St. Anthony Park Listserv, emails and phone calls to the council and to local representatives. The SAPCC Board wrote a letter to Ramsey County voicing their concerns and questioning the changes that were made between the community engagement meetings in 2019 and 2020 and the current reality, which almost tripled the number of trees removed. After newspaper articles appeared about the situation (Pioneer Press May 9, 2022 Star Tribune May 4, 2022), which mentioned the letter, the county reached out to SAPCC for this meeting.

SAPCC staff and co-chairs from the Environment and Transportation Committees presented community, environmental, and communication concerns to the County along with research and alternative proposals for the construction that would save many of the oldest trees, some as old as 200 years. We reiterated the benefits trees have in reducing climate change and in mitigating its impacts. Our position is that the in-street bike lanes should be omitted, which will narrow the roadway by 8 feet, and that the multi-use pathway should be laid out to maximize tree retention. (The proposal submitted by SAPCC to the participants can be found here, along with a list of the most significant trees marked for removal, and our spoken presentation from the meeting can be found here).

In the meeting, Ramsey County representatives expressed that the current pause in tree removal and the start of construction is a legitimate desire to partner with the community and still be thoughtful about the resources of taxpayer dollars. They apologized for not keeping the community and SAPCC informed as the project continued through the detailed engineering process, in which each step seemed to require additional trees to be removed than they expected. They described the project as “threading a needle” because of the narrow space with many trees, contradictory objectives of the interested parties, and requirements for stormwater management and sewer line replacements. 

They questioned whether the redesign as SAPCC requested, with a narrower street, would save a substantial number of trees because there are so many impinging requirements. They discussed the huge financial impact reengineering would incur if they were to implement the changes that SAPCC proposed. This would include reengineering costs, possible loss of federal funds, and possible punitive payments to contractors:

  • Reengineering to remove the in-street bike lanes would cost an additional  two-thirds of the original cost, approximately $200K, give or take costs for new permits. (SAPCC pointed out that these costs could be covered by decreased costs for retaining walls and other construction costs from less pavement.)
  • The $9M construction contract has been awarded and the work had been scheduled, and it was stated that this could bring punitive payments to the general contractor and subcontractors to revoke it.
  • Reengineering would also mean delaying the start until 2023 because after the time needed to reengineer, there would not be time to build a phase in 2022, given the required break for the State Fair.
  • Federal money (through the Met Council’s Regional Solicitation) is paying for 70–80% of the cost, and could be lost if delayed a year. A one-year extension has already been granted (construction was supposed to start in 2021), and it was stated that getting another year’s extension is unlikely in the political context of the Met Council’s Transportation Advisory Board, where that decision is made.

As we discussed the community priorities and ideas, the County asserted that there’s not much that can be done to save more trees for the first phase of the project as currently designed and engineered. After community feedback, they already had an arborist review each marked tree and were able to save a couple of the trees scheduled for removal. They are committed to working with the contractors throughout Phase 1 to question whether they can work around trees and leave trees that will have some of their roots disturbed to give them a chance to live.  

From SAPCC’s review of the plans, we expect that most of the marked trees between Como and Buford will be removed if Phase 1 proceeds as planned. The meeting with the tree-removal contractor is planned for May 26 to decide which trees will be cut down and when to begin.  

The County agreed to the following, going forward from the meeting:

  1. Make small changes to the 2022 implementation when possible to save trees, including, but not limited to the 190-year-old bur oak on the east side of Cleveland at Knapp, a century-old oak on the west side midway between Carter and Doswell, and two trees on Scudder.
  2. Review which other trees may be left in place, despite root damage by construction.
  3. Explore transplanting young trees when possible.
  4. Wood to be reused for furniture or other creative uses, where possible. Some slices will be retained for climatological or historical preservation.
  5. No trees from the 2023 phase (north of Buford) will be cut down in 2022 to allow more time to assess whether more can be saved, and generally to keep them alive and growing as long as possible.
  6. Possible redesign of some elements of the 2023 phase that affect significant trees will be considered, particularly the location of the storm water retention area on the east side north of Folwell relative to the ancient oak trees and the retaining walls on both sides north of Folwell. For example, bike lanes could possibly be combined with the multi-use path and sidewalk temporarily to preclude need for retaining walls.
  7. Commitment to replace 55 trees in boulevards and to modify replanting specifications and inspection to give trees the best chance at survival. The County is willing to consider watering them. County will seek SAPCC guidance on which tree species to plant. 
  8. City of St. Paul will obtain a bulk estimate for televising sanitary sewer lines as an option for homeowners to use existing pipes in lieu of replacement, which requires trenching and tree removal. Cost to be borne by homeowners (through assessments). There are currently 9 buildings where tree removal is ascribed to sewer replacement, each with a tree between 70 and 100 years old. If other boulevard trees can be retained through changes to the design/engineering, this number could increase. (More information can be found here. If there is enough room between the tree and property line and the property owner would like to take on the expense of rerouting to save the tree, they should contact the Ramsey County project manager, Brian Essler at 651-248-0175 as soon as possible.)

In conclusion, although the SAPCC representatives at the meeting appreciate the commitments made by the County, they commented that they and the community are not going to be content that there’s no way to make substantial changes to the project. This will completely change the feeling of the street and will not feel like the St. Anthony Park we know and love. 

There are significant trees in Phase 1 that will be removed if it is constructed as currently planned. The County admitted that they dropped the process over the pandemic and it was inexcusable. They commented that they are doing as much as they can to make sure this never happens again.