Metro neighborhood fighting to save 60-year-old elm trees

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Neighbors are upset with the city of Albuquerque because they believe the city is wrongfully trying to remove all 33 elm trees on Laguna Boulevard.

“Give us a more reasonable plan for replacing these trees that won’t destroy the character of this neighborhood,” said Janet Lipham, who lives in the neighborhood.

Janet Lipham is one of many people who live in the Huning Castle neighborhood near Central Avenue and Laguna Boulevard who are fighting to keep dozens of decades-old elm trees in their street’s median. Paul Reardon is another.

“I think it would change the feel of this neighborhood. I think events like Run for the Zoo [and the] Duke City Marathon would have a whole different feel,” said Reardon.

Laguna Boulevard is known and loved for the vast canopy the elm trees create.

About two weeks ago, the City of Albuquerque told neighbors they had to remove nine trees because they were a safety hazard, citing termite and wind damage.

“To take nine trees out was fine, and I thought it was nice to give us the option of what to replace them with,” said Lipham.

The city planned a neighborhood meeting for Friday, March 23 at 7 pm. They told neighbors at that meeting they would decide what to replace the rotted trees with.

“That meeting was very poorly attended because of the time,” said Reardon.

At that meeting, neighbors say the city did discuss tree replacements, but they also dropped a bomb on them.

“Then it was announced they were going to pull all the trees in the median out,” said Reardon.

Reardon and Lipham feel like the city is trying to pull a fast one on the neighborhood. 

“For them to look at us and say, ‘Oh, we concur there’s nine that are a hazard and we’re going to take them out.’ To go from that with no warning and say, ‘Actually all 33 go,’ that’s a real problem with trust,” said Reardon.

“Shock at first. Anger at the city. Frustration because the story changed. The story changed in just a couple weeks,” said Lipham.

Albuquerque’s Solid Waste Department is in charge of maintaining these trees. A spokesperson refused an on-camera interview but sent KRQE News 13 a statement:

“The City Solid Waste Management Department’s Arborist conducted a second assessment and determined that more of the trees are diseased from their tops through the root systems. The City is continuing to assess the trees and determine how many of these trees are at the end of their lifespan.

The City Solid Waste Management Arborist recommended that these trees be removed. A replacement plan will be implemented and new foliage will be planted.”

“Give us a more reasonable plan for replacing these trees that won’t destroy the character of this neighborhood, while we’re trying to tend to the medians and make sure there’s a smooth transition to one set of trees to another that will last another 60 or 100 years,” said Lipham.

Reardon and Lipham understand that the trees have to come down if there is a safety hazard.

“If we have an independent arborist objectively say, there are a few more trees that need to come out then that’s what’s going to have to happen. If there are safety issues we obviously have to address them,” said Reardon.

Still, neither believe it’s possible for every one of the neighborhood’s 33 historic elm trees to be a danger.

“It’s fairly obvious that not every single one of them poses that hazard,” said Reardon.

Now, neighbors are bringing in their own independent arborist to give the city a second opinion.

“I do think his findings are going to be different. If you walk this median and look at the condition of each tree, these trees are in need of some pruning,  but I don’t believe they’re the safety hazard that has been presented,” said Reardon.

The neighborhood plans to have their arborist out this week.

Neighbors say the city originally told them tree removal would be completed by April 13. However, on Monday, the city told KRQE News 13 they do not have a timeline.

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