When we reported that Richland city officials were proposing the removal of some unhealthy trees at Howard Amon Park, the public reaction was swift and fierce.
Social media erupted with posts by Richland residents worried the shade would be destroyed. Most leetters to the editor ridiculed the plan, questioning why anyone would want to chop down their beloved trees.
At least one reader, however, wondered if people understood the whole story, or if they were commenting only on pieces of information that were fueling the negative reaction. This was an astute observation.
Richland park officials know that the shade at Howard Amon Park is precious, and that the community would be devastated if it were diminished in any way.
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The problem, however, is that the most mature trees in the park were planted in the 1940s and are nearing the end of their lifespan. That means the oldest trees could die about the same time.
So it is imperative the city has a plan in place to protect the shade canopy. Richland employs an arborist to help maintain the city’s trees, and there are plans to plant at least 20 more in the south end of Howard Amon Park this fall.
But there are also plans to remove some unhealthy trees in order to accommodate the widening of the shoreline walkway, and that’s what stirred up so much debate and concern among residents.
City officials say the 8-foot-wide path is too narrow, and can no longer handle all the foot and bicycle traffic.
The proposed plan would widen the walkway and remove trees whose roots could interfere with the asphalt in the future. There also is a plan to install electrical conduit, so the path can be lit up at night, making it safer.
With emotions running high, there were a number of people who turned out for the public hearing on the proposal. But unlike the frustrated tone on social media, the atmosphere at the meeting was calm and civil.
That’s how it should be.
In response to the public outcry over possibly losing mature trees in the park, city officials said they could make adjustments to the path and avoid removing several trees.
This means that there are now 10 trees that may have to be removed instead of a possible 25 that had originally been identified.
The hearing examiner who took the testimony at the meeting has yet to decide on whether to approve the shoreline permit request the city is seeking for the project.
In the meantime, citizens should continue to make their voices heard and city officials should listen.
And Richland citizens will have the chance to discuss their thoughts on this and other city issues at two upcoming public information meetings. City staff is in the process of updating the community’s comprehensive plan, which helps determine where new housing, shopping, jobs and infrastructure will be located over the next 20 years.
The Aug. 30 meeting will be at the Richland Public Library and the Sept. 7 meeting will be at Orchard Elementary School. Both are from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Thoughtful discussion is critical for community trust, and these meetings provide a great avenue for residents to give their input on a wide variety of topics. We hope they take advantage of the opportunity.