, Muskogee, OK

March 2, 2013

Downtown trees need better plan

— Government can move excruciatingly slow at times.

At other times, it makes more sense to slow down, listen and plan effectively.

The city of Muskogee should have taken the time to solicit citizen response before it went all Paul Bunyan on downtown trees.

Parks and Recreation Director Mark Wilkerson said his employees began removing trees after a discussion with Downtown Muskogee Inc., Director Jonita Mullins.

Wilkerson said the two discussed a consultant’s report that stated downtown trees were becoming a hazard as they died, damaging sidewalks as roots grew, and were the wrong kind of trees to be planted in an urban landscape.

All of that is true.

The roots of some of the trees had expanded so much that sidewalks were being buckled.

Some tree trunks had swollen to the point of choking off the electrical supply to outlets used for Christmas lights.

And, as Mullins told the Phoenix, some business owners did not like the trees in front of their establishments.

But it is also very  true that the city cut down living trees.

The city cut down trees that weren’t bothering business owners.

The city cut down trees that weren’t — yet — buckling sidewalks.

The city did all this without enough public input, and without funding to replace the felled trees.

Many of those trees had been there for more than a decade.

There was no reason to cut them down so swiftly.

Muskogee is trying to make downtown more business friendly but did not take the time to fully discuss the plan with downtown business owners.

That’s not a precedent you want to create when trying to encourage business owners to expand or locate downtown.

In addition, it is very clear that there was not enough planning when the trees were planted in the first place.

These problems should have been foreseen.

The city can’t afford to make the same mistakes twice.

Now that the damage is done, the city needs to take a deep breath and plan.