HOLMBERG: Wrongly bulldozed trees at Redskins park make finishing easier, but…

Posted at 11:59 PM, Jan 14, 2013
and last updated 2013-01-16 00:28:01-05

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - After a lengthy debate about going forward with the Redskins training facility, the bulldozers trundled out on state property behind the Science Museum of Virginia and – almost immediately – brought a big-time fumble.

“The goal was, and the intent was, to preserve as many old growth trees as possible,” said Richmond City Council president Charles Samuels. “It was shocking that this happened.”

Instead of preserving much of the urban forest on the property, it was clear-cut and bulldozed. The plan was to keep one tree for every one knocked down, with a new sapling added.

“We’re disappointed,” Richmond mayor Dwight Jones said, “taken aback that our commitments were not honored.”

“I don’t believe there was any (bad) intent here,” Samuels said. “I don’t believe this was anything but a mistake, miscommunication. I want to get to the bottom of it to make sure we don’t have these problems in the future.”

There hasn’t been this much collective frustration, perhaps, since the Maymont bears were euthanized.

As City Councilman Chris Hilbert said, “I am disgusted and outraged in learning about the total destruction of all the trees at the planned Washington Redskins Football training site in our city. Richmond residents deserve much better than this complete and utter failure to protect one of our city's most valuable resources, our urban forest.”

Also gone is the wooded site where the body of 17-year-old honors student Catena Parker was found in 1991, a haunting murder case that remains unsolved.

Also unsolved right now is how the site plan could go this wrong.

An initial statement from the city Monday indicated that they city’s Economic Development Authority -  an independent body overseeing the project – changed the site plan to accommodate a future expansion request from the neighboring Science Museum of Virginia.

But the Museum’s spokesperson said they had “very limited involvement with the actual site plan for the project.  Since the site’s original consideration by the City, we have shared our plans for a future special event center behind the Museum and emphasized its critical connection to Leigh Street and ample parking. Additionally, the City has indicated to us that the site will be landscaped in an appropriate manner, but those details have not been shared with us.”

The Economic Development Authority declined to talk with CBS 6 about the case and suggested we check with the architectural firm on the park, whose director did not respond to our visit to their offices.

The mayor’s press secretary now says they are trying to figure out what happened.

The mayor told CBS 6 he wants to get to the bottom of this.

“When a tree is gone, it’s gone,” Mayor Jones said. “What we’re going to do is to ask for a new landscape plan and we’re going to replace the trees one to one, but not with young trees, but with mature trees so we can make the best of the situation.”

Planting mature trees can be much more expensive and difficult, because of the size of the root balls required to keep each tree alive for transplant.

“It’s definitely going to cost more money,” Samuels said.

Doing heavy site work (like that which is being done for the facility) in a wooded setting can be problematic because delicate root systems can be damaged by digging near them or simply driving over a tree’s drip line with heavy machinery. This so-called “bulldozer blight” can cause trees to die a year or more after the site work is done.

So, having the site cleared off like that will likely make it much easier to move quickly and finish the facility of time for the opening of the Redskins’ training camp in late July.

That will be small consolation to those who helped sell the park plan, like Samuels, by pledging to keep many of the trees. And it will give those who opposed the plan, like failed council candidate Charlie Diradour, a told-you-so opportunity about rules broken and procedures not followed in the push to get the park deal done.

“This is just the beginning,” Diradour said Monday night.