Monday, June 9, 2014

Of Trees, Stormwater and Boondoggles

The Detroit Water & Sewerage Department (DWSD) spent years in collaboration with the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) getting ready to plant trees in Detroit neighborhoods and parks as part of a larger plan to control combined sewer overflow.  Scores of meetings were conducted and thousands of personnel-hours expended. DWSD contracted with Greening of Detroit, a non-profit organization, to do the actual planting.  

In a typical year like fiscal 2012-2013, approximately 1500 trees were planted over several weeks in the fall and another 1500 over several more weeks the following spring.  

All three organizations knew or should have known that, at the rate of 3000 or so trees per year, they wouldn’t even be replacing the trees in the watershed that are lost every year through blight, wind, rot, insect infestation, lightning and old age.  

Thus, combined sewer overflow (the justification for the project) is not reduced by a single drop.  I would love to see what the actual total cost of this boondoggle is.

The inclination of DWSD, SEMCOG and Greening to plant trees sparsely along residential streets and in city parks suggests to me that those organizations are more interested in the decorative value of planting trees, much like the city’s discontinued neighborhood beautification program, only now it’s being paid for by DWSD’s ratepayers, as well as taxpayers generally.

Compare the work done privately by John Hantz of Hantz Woodlands.  He, too, spent several years jumping through hoops to get his tree planting project approved by the city. He assembled some vacant city lots, rounded up 1200 volunteers and on one Saturday last month, planted 15,000 trees.

Impressed?  Then look at this.   A private-public partnership in New York City had anticipated planting 100,000 trees per year with a goal of one million trees planted by 2017.  But they’re almost at 900,000 now, so they’ve reset the completion date to 2015.  Granted, Detroit is no New York City, but consider how NYC did it.  They organized with the help of one auto company (Toyota), several foundations and a very active celebrity.  Detroit has all of that and more.  It’s just a matter of how it’s put together and by whom.

We deserve a bigger bang for our buck.

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