Transit systems planning rail lines, such as Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) and California’s Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART), are working with their communities to preserve trees in the paths of proposed routes.
HART received high marks from The Outdoor Circle, a nonprofit environmental group, for measures it is taking to preserve up to 900 trees that will need to be removed to make way for a 20-mile rail line.
Marti Townsend, The Outdoor Circle’s executive director, told KITV4 that HART has done “an excellent job” ensuring that the trees they transplant survive.
In the first phase of the project, 300 trees have been removed and 250 of those have been transplanted elsewhere with a 90% survival rate, according to a report filed last month with the Honolulu City Council.
Additionally, some trees determined to be too valuable to lose have resulted in HART moving rail columns by a few feet to accommodate them.
“Some of the trees initially slated for removal or relocation were able to remain in place by making slight changes to the rail design and tree pruning,” Jeanne Mariani-Belding HART’s director, communications, said.
HART’s planning team meets regularly with The Outdoor Circle’s local chapter to go over the proper and safe relocation of trees. The working relationship includes group discussions and on-site visits, Mariani-Belding added.
HART’s Environmental Impact Statement identified which trees would be affected by the rail alignment. From there, the transit system’s project arborist evaluated the health, size and species of each tree to determine the best course, including which trees could be successfully transplanted, Mariani-Belding explained. The arborist also prepared a regularly updated plan that provides the status of each tree.
“The environment is a special part of Hawaii’s beauty, and we take special care to do all that we can to protect it,” she added.
Meanwhile, in March, SMART suspended the removal of a rare, green and white Chimera Coast Redwood tree located within a planned railroad right-of-way as it explores other options.
The community’s interest in the tree prompted the move, Matt Stevens, community and media relations, SMART, said.
An arborist hired by SMART conducted a study and identified the tree as a Chimera Redwood Tree, which has some chromosomes without chlorophyll, making it partially albino, Stevens explained.
The study also determined the tree is not naturally-occurring; it was raised in a nursery. The redwood was planted in the right-of-way of the historic 1850’s-era Northwestern Pacific Railroad approximately 45 years ago by a private individual, likely as a landscape ornamental, according to SMART.
Reviewing an option to meet the safety clearances through extensive pruning, the study concluded that in addition to requiring removal of all branches and foliage on the east side of the tree, the tree’s health would be undermined by the track construction and it could not survive in its present location. It would also become prone to wind throw, within falling distance of both the track and adjacent private property, creating a public safety hazard.
SMART will consult with additional independent experts to verify the report’s conclusions and continue to look at options to save the tree.
One of the options is to move the tree to another location. The City of Cotati has volunteered to accept the tree if moving it is the most viable option, Stevens said.
SMART is still making good progress on the project, he added.
“Our contractors are working in other areas while we evaluate our options. While it has slowed down construction in that area, it has not slowed down project construction in general,” said Stevens.