Planting Newberry Trees Before the Storm | News, Sports, Jobs
Crews from the Williamsport Streets and Parks Department worked quickly to plant 40 young, bare-rooted shade trees along West Fourth Street on Thursday, before torrential rain is expected today.
Working at a steady pace, the team planted the trees in the driveway between the curb and sidewalk from Funston Avenue to Oliver Street.
The replanting is an attempt to replace 51 trees that were removed by PennDOT in 2019.
Their initial removal, in some cases overnight, caused havoc with homeowners demanding their replacement when they were removed as part of the West Fourth Street road remodeling and utility replacement work. Construction has been delayed until 2028, PennDOT has told city officials multiple times.
“I’m so happy for the people of Newberry,” Councilwoman Bonnie Katz, vice president of the council and chair of the city’s public works committee, said. Katz was a strong advocate for them being replaced.
“First of all, this should never have happened” cat said. “The city is trying to right a wrong, even if it might only be temporary.”
Trees help with the environment and noise pollution, bringing Newberry back into the nice neighborhood look.
Historically, West Fourth Street in Newberry was lined with trees.
When PennDOT removed the trees, they changed the entire streetscape to the detriment of everyone who lives, works, or regularly drives through Newberry, said Michele Frey, a Newberry resident and president of the Newberry Community Partnership.
Tree-lined streets have been shown to slow traffic, make drivers more aware of their surroundings and have been shown to reduce crime rates, Frey said.
Trees also increase property value, trap rainwater, reduce noise, and naturally cool homes and sidewalks, she said.
After years of efforts to have PennDOT replace the street trees they removed, it was announced that they have no plans to return to the project until 2028.
While ongoing discussions with PennDOT have been unproductive, discussions with Mayor Derek Slaughter and council members have continued.
Earlier this year, the City of Williamsport announced plans to ensure streetscape restoration.
Frey expressed appreciation for the road and park crew and the planting and restoration. Newberry has many schools, historic baseball fields, established businesses (like Dunkin’) and growing businesses (like Diamond Square Market), she noted.
“The Newberry community is special and its streetscape is worth restoring and preserving,” said Frey.
The conditions couldn’t have been better. Blue skies and sunny conditions helped with the tree planting work, which was precisely timed before nature watered the trees as she does.
Workers planted a combination of Hackberry Celetis Occidentalis and Zelkova Green Vase trees. The trees were rather easy to carry, not heavy at all, and the brown bark is a light chocolate color. There are no buds on them.
The Zelkova mature and shoot upwards in a manner “Vase” Shape as the hackberry spreads upward and outward, said Chad Eckert, the city ranger and certified arborist for the department.
The trees cost US$5,000 and were sourced from Schichtel’s Nursery in New York, a nursery the department works well with and has used successfully in the past. The replanting was done with funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, not general funds, the crew told the Sun Gazette.
The trees are expected to be in leaf when the weather takes a turn in April or May.
The department provided traffic control on both sides of the construction site.
Crews said they planted about 34 on the north portion of West Fourth Street and six on the south side.
To get the job done quickly, the team had a root cutter cutting through the grass and into the soft dirt in a matter of seconds, exposing a hole. The 1 1/2 inch diameter and 1 3/4 diameter trees were then carried over by the truck and placed in the hole. The roots were pressed down and the soft earth was then laid back by the crew, using their shoes and a small shovel (if necessary) to kick them into place and tamping down the dirt.
Then another worker brought some wood mulch with a shovel and spread it around the tree with a rake.
The trees are the responsibility of the individual homeowners where the trees were planted, said Dave Myers, park foreman.
Most city employees, except for those required to be on duty in public safety departments, are on paid Veterans Day vacation. So if they are not quite ready, they can continue on Monday if all the trees are not able to be planted.
At the pace they were going it seemed they would finish by the end of the Thursday shift.
Crews would not speculate about what will happen when government rebuilding of the road resumes in 2028. This is better left to negotiations between the administration, council, public bodies, the non-profit organization and local residents, the workers said.