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Residents gather to save cottonwood tree slated for removal in north Durango

Protesters take issue with city’s cost estimate re-routing trail around tree
About a dozen protesters gathered Monday morning at the corner of 32nd Street and East Third Avenue to protest the removal of a cottonwood tree as part of the city of Durango's Animas River Trail project. (Nicholas A. Johnson/Durango Herald)

About 10 residents of the Animas City neighborhood gathered Monday to stand in protest of the city of Durango’s decision to remove a large cottonwood tree at the corner of 32nd Street and East Third Avenue for its Animas River Trail underpass.

“I’ll be out here every day until this tree lives or dies,” said resident Jules Harris.

Harris said some residents have decided they will be in the tree when construction crews come to cut it down.

Protesters said there has been a lack of public information throughout the planning process for the project. At last week’s Parks and Recreation Board meeting, a photo of a design that would have saved the cottonwood tree surfaced, they said.

“No one from the public had seen this drawing,” Harris said. “I was at the board meeting last Wednesday night, and this surfaced. And even a board member said, ‘Gosh, I wish I had seen this drawing before.’”

The drawing from February suggests it would have cost the city about $150,000 to keep the tree.

“What we’re being told is that we’re late to the game, but none of us ever saw this,” Harris said. “We we’re all blindsided by what we were sold, and what the reality is.”

Now, to change the plans would cost the city an additional $90,000 in design costs, and $425,000 in additional construction costs, according to city estimates.

Parks and Recreation also expressed concern that a redesign could result in the third delay for a grant from Great Outdoors Colorado, which could lose the city nearly $700,000 toward the underpass project.

“We would need an extension to get that approved,” said Durango Parks and Recreation Director Ture Nycum. “While I think that after talking with GOCO staff that it would get extended, it’s still at risk a little bit.”

Protesters stand in the morning shade of a tree they're trying to save at corner of 32nd Street and East Third Avenue that is slated to be removed as part of the Animas River Trail project. (Nicholas A. Johnson/Durango Herald)

GOCO said Tuesday there is no guarantee an extension will go through, but there is a precedent of grants having multiple extensions.

“If they’re showing a clear runway for completion, and that there’s a case that the project is still a priority for the community, then it would be looked on favorably for an extension,” said GOCO Southwest Regional Officer Estrella Woods, in an interview with The Durango Herald.

Beyond cost, other reasons given by the city for not keeping the tree included snow removal challenges, concerns about the tree’s ability to survive construction around its root system and difficulties setting concrete near the tree.

Nycum said the increased cost of doing a reroute now instead of months ago is a combination of new design costs, contractor costs and a fee for the abandonment of the bridge design.

“Part of that is having to redesign the trail because we didn’t complete the design work on the reroute around the tree back in February,” Nycum said. “They were working with the information they had at the time, and made a decision to move forward with the project as it was designed based on the cost implications at that time.”

Nycum said the initial design of the reroute from February was not released publicly at the time because at that point in the process, it was still a staff-level decision.

“At a staff-level decision, which happens often, they decided not to proceed with that alignment.” Nycum said. “I bet had they known the public response to the decision, they probably would have taken a different approach.”

The reroute around the tree was considered only because the previous owner of the property asked the city to put forth its best effort in aligning the trail around the cottonwood, Nycum said.

In response to residents writing to the city about keeping the tree, Parks and Recreation contracted with an arborist to examine the tree. The arborist determined the tree had about 25 years to live, was in good condition and was likely to survive construction along an alternative route. It was also determined that the estimated value of the tree was between $45,000 and $55,000.

“The arborist said that it was a high survivable rate for the root system with the way this was designed to go around it,” Harris said.

Harris said the tree is important to her, and she will be out protesting every morning beginning about 7:30 a.m.

“I’ve lived across from this tree for 20 years, and I know it’s fall when the leaves start to shimmer,” she said. “In the afternoon when we have those breezes, the light hits it and it’s like a gold bomb.”

njohnson@durangoherald.com

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