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August 3, 2011

City: Grand Prix to plant many more trees than it cuts

Update: Full story can be found here. 

A city official is defending allowing the Baltimore Grand Prix to cut down trees along the Inner Harbor race course, saying organizers have agreed to replace those trees nearly four times over, more than tripling the downtown's tree canopy in the process.

Beth Strommen, director of Baltimore's Office of Sustainability says she negotiated a deal with organizers of the Labor Day weekend street race, in which they got to cut down fewer than half the trees they originally wanted to remove to improve spectators' views of the racing.

Only 50 trees are to be cut down along the race course on West Pratt and Light streets, said Strommen - not the 136 that Lonnie Fisher, assistant Grand Prix general manager had told The Baltimore Sun on Monday.  Strommen, who spoke by telephone while vacationing in New Jersey, said she could not explain the discrepancy, but said she had confirmed the city's agreement with the race by phone Tuesday.

News of the tree cutting has upset some residents, who contend that it violates the city's forest conservation code (Article 7, Natural Resources) and is at odds with the city's sustainability plan, which calls for doubling Baltimore's tree canopy by 2037.  

Critics have begun circulating an online petition calling for a halt to any more race-related tree cutting until the plan is fully aired and each tree to be removed identified, as required by city code. Petition drafter Dave Troy contended in an email that the plan for cutting and replacing trees because of the race was "haphazard" and "shoved down the throat of the public without due process."

Strommen said the deal she'd negotiated with race organizers hasn't been announced yet because it has yet to be finalized, reviewed by city lawyers and signed.   But it calls for planting 59 replacement trees in the race corridor, she said, and another 135 trees are to be planted in already empty sidewalk "pits" for trees elsewhere in downtown. 

Strommen said she has been hashing out tree removal and replacement with race organizers for months and had expected to unveil the plan next week when she returned to Baltimore from vacation.

Baltimore Grand Prix managers could not be reached yesterday evening to confirm the terms of the deal Strommen described.

Strommen said the city agreed to allow the removal of some trees that would block views of the street action from temporary grandstands to be erected along the race course. But she said the city exacted a price in additional trees to be planted elsewhere.

"They had their needs to sell tickets," she said. "We had our needs to preserve the beauty of downtown and make Pratt Street continue to be a main street in a great downtown area."

Strommen acknowledged that some of the trees cut bordering the federal courthouse were "big and healthy," as critics have complained. But she said others, particularly those near the convention center, were in decline because they did not have adequate space to grow and their roots were constantly trampled by pedestrians.

The trees to be replanted along the race course will be relocated, Strommen said, to spots where they won't be in the way of spectators in future years, as the city has a deal to host the Grand Prix for up to five years. And 14 of them around the courthouse will be planted in specially designed, oversized planters, she said, to test the viability of having movable trees.

Beyond replacing the trees cut along the race course, Strommen said she got race organizers to agree to plant 135 additional trees in every empty spot in the sidewalk downtown where a tree used to be or was intended to grow. Some details, such as the mix of trees to be planted, have yet to be nailed down, she said, but all the trees are to be planted this fall or within the next year, more than tripling the number of trees downtown.

"I'm feeling pretty good about getting every tree pit downtown filled, myself" said Strommen.

UPDATE: People continue to debate the removal of trees around the Inner Harbor to accommodate the Baltimore Grand Prix on Labord Day weekend, but city officials are speaking up to defend it.

Ryan O'Doherty, spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, noted in an email that the tree canopy downtown is increasing under the plan worked out by the city.  And William H. Cole IV, the City Council member who represents downtown, called it a "net gain" for trees downtown and said all but a handfull of the trees being removed for the race have already been cut or relocated.

"This wasn’t something that just happened yesterday," Cole said in a telephone interview. "This has been a very deliberate process." He said he and Strommen and race reperesentatives "walked every single block and looked at every single tree and made a comprehensive list of everything that could not be touched."

Cole said the Downtown Partnership was actively involved in the planning, and he pointed out that the downtown business group has been removing and replanting trees along Pratt for some time now as it removes berms along the street.  A Downtown Partnership official declined to discuss the tree issue, referring a reporter to the Grand Prix.  Its top officers have yet to return repeated phone calls.

Dave Troy, a software entrepreneur who is circulating the online petition against the race-related tree-cutting, said he's still bothered by the way in which the cutting was done.  He questioned why the city didn't release the plan, even in draft form, so the public could see and comment on it before it was a fait accompli, and he insisted that race organizers and city officials be held accountable if the trees were removed without following the city's own forestry code.

"Trees are not fungible," said Troy. "You can't exchange one set of trees for another."

(Trees being cut across from Convention Center. Baltimore Sun photo by Gene Sweeney Jr.)

Posted by Tim Wheeler at 6:30 AM | | Comments (38)


"...she said others, particularly those near the convention center, were in decline because they did not have adequate space to grow and their roots were constantly trampled by pedestrians."

Beth . . . unless these particular trees were planted upside down (they weren't, right?) or not planted deep enough (again, not the case) then please share with us how a tree's roots could be "constantly trampled by pedestrians."

Why would the city plant a tree in the first place if it "did not have adequate space to grow"?

I'm sure that you confirmed before you took your New Jersey vacation that no bird nests were in these now felled trees, right?

Your statements seem to confirm your expertise in bureacracy rather than trees plants and animals.

Cutting down 136 trees that are 40-year old for a lame 3 day race car event? Because they are "blocking the view?" This is why I will never vote for Rawlings-Blake. This is total bust for downtown Baltimore and city residents. Even worse public relations to do it in the middle of a heat wave!

TW: Number of trees being cut more like 50, with nearly 200 being planted in compensation, according to city official. See later post:

If the agreement isn't signed, why are trees being cut down already? Sounds like a reporting 101 question to me.

TW: That is a good question. As my post said, Strommen said she'd expected to finalize and sign the deal upon her return from vacation. We'll be asking the Grand Prix and City Hall today why they went ahead before the agreement had been signed.

The questions that needs to be answered: What will be the age of the replacement trees planted? What will the City do to protect these trees? Will the city install fences around the sidewalk trees?

If the agreement hasn't even been signed yet and the organizers are already chopping, it's not a good sign that they're acting in good faith to follow whatever agreement they end up signing. Ms. Strommen's lack of concern about the fact that the cutting started before the agreement was finalized also leads me to think the city won't exactly act to hold organizers responsible if/when they violate other agreements.

To say that City Hall is dysfunctional is an understatement. No agreement signed and yet they are cutting down mature healthy trees. In the summer the city is always 5 to 10 degrees hotter then surrounding counties and they are cutting down trees that help to cool not to mention the other environmental benefits derived from mature trees. The city should be sued for violating the city's forest conservation code (Article 7, Natural Resources) and possibly the city's sustainability plan.

Next, they'll say that the tree replants will be paid to the city in the form of gratis Grand Prix tickets whose cash "value" is equivalent to that of the trees.

It's bad enough that this race will sever the light rail in half, and with the last switch at North Avenue, seriously hinder its people carrying capability for this event as the trains can't run as often as they should. It's just as bad that transit routes will also be severed in two for a week with some lines coming way short of the CBD.

This money grab however, by turning Pratt Street into an unbuffered stretch of ugliness, has to be the worst move yet - all to hope to attract less than the attendance of two football games of folks.

"Strommen acknowledged that some of the trees cut bordering the federal courthouse were 'big and healthy...'" Heartbreaking. It will take 40 years or more to recover from this 3 day event. Who knows how long it will take us to recover from Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's tenure as Mayor. Add the loss of healthy, mature trees to the cost the citizens of Baltimore have already paid for this race -- an entire year of insane traffic jams costing every one of us who work and/or live downtown in time, gas, wear and tear on our cars and additional daily stress. Yet, I'm sure when Rawlings-Blake appears on national TV this Labor Day weekend as the Mayor of the host city she will feel it was all worth it.

How many of these 135 new trees can we expect to survive? Is there something in the "agreement" that requires watering and care for these new trees to ensure their survival?

I sure hope so, because the loss of these mature trees is another terrible blow to Baltimore City in the continued struggle to host this mess of an event.

That's all fine and good to plant all those trees (especially considering the long-term plans to re-do Pratt Street and remove the earth berms anyway). But the problem with any trees being planted is that a lot of them will die in the first 5 years from lack of maintenance. My hope is that Downtown Partnership will pay special attention to watering these trees so that it will indeed be a net gain. The City should consider negotiating for them to open up new tree wells wherever it is practical so that the canopy is spread out even more.

I hope everyone realizes that this "Grand Prix Racing" event is simply a gargantuan hoax being played upon the City of Baltimore by the "Organizers".
I predict that this event will be a financial disaster for the "Organizers" and the city will never see or hear from them again unless it's in bankruptcy court.
They are woefully underfunded and have no other interest other than a quick buck. When the tickets sales are audited by a competent firm (probably sometime before the bankruptcy hearing) all will know what a loser this thing has been from the very beginning...all except the bozos in City Hall that is!

Um...did they post this,, which by law they are supposed to have done.

Oh...but it's the grand prix. Laws don't apply to this event.

It is one thing to plant a tree. It is another to establish a tree. The city has a dreadful record when it comes to sustaining and establishing trees once planted. Cutting these trees is a horrible idea. They should be maintained and the organizers of this race should go ahead and plant (and tend) many more. Horrible stupid decision from our mindless city administration.

I would like to know, why is this the first we're hearing of this? Why wasn't this reported by the Sun when the City announced its plan to bring the race to Baltimore?

I find it hard to believe that all of a sudden, two months before the race, that the city and race officials said - oh, yeah, we need to cut down a lot of trees.

This race is Queen Dixon's folly not SRB.

Meh, they're street trees for the most part. They're not really part of any established ecosystem, and are likely those terrible Bradford Pears, which literally fall apart after 15 years or so. I'd be curious to see an inventory of what was removed. I've seen pictures of some large trees (~12" or so), but I imagine they're mostly on the 2-4" end.

Take down a tree in Baltimore County within 100 feet water and your a criminal... Last time I checked, downtown was near the water. Guess the governement can do whatever it wants as long as it benifits them

Neighborhoods in Baltimore are clammoring for trees to fill their tree pits and green their neighborhoods. All the while, the City plans on cutting down a ton of trees for grand prix races that will happen 3 days a year for 5 years. This is taking one step forward and two steps back. What an absurd result.

I think it is important for people to realize that the Grand Prix was not agreed on under Stephanie Rawlings Blake tenure. While I may not be a huge fan of other things lets give credit where it is due that is our previous Mayor Dixon's doing

Look at the bush-leaguer wielding the chain saw in the photo, Donning shorts, no personal protective gear. Sad.

Absolutely disgusting that mature trees are being cut down simply to "improve spectators' views of the racing." They should have thought about that when they planned the course. Cutting down these trees is NOT an option in my book, unless the area is being completely redeveloped (which it is not).
I live in Federal Hill and have supported the race until now. I will be BOYCOTTING this event and will not have anything to do with it. I refuse to give these idiots a dime of my money.

I hate to see good trees cut. But I agree with Able Baker, it's unlikely that most of the ones cut were really great trees- and probably all non-natives to boot (anybody think Gingko Biloba are part of the bay ecosystem??? apparently our city arborists do).

I really am encouraged that people pay attention to this in Baltimore- the fact that so many people have commented on this issue is really surprising and encouraging.

I think in the end the race is indeed a big plus for Baltimore- I would hope that for the five years it will be here the organizers need to keep the new trees maintained until they are well established. Anything that ends up in a net gain of tree canopy for Bmore is welcome in my opinion.

Maybe they should knock a few buildings down too since they might impair the view of the race?

City Hall apparently has no limit on how far they will go to lick the boots of the Grand Prix organizers in a futile attempt to refill their depleted Treasury.

Man you'd think that pig-looking villain from Captain Planet was mowing down an old-growth rain-forest to build an oil refinery the way people are talking about this.

First off, 50 trees is not even a drop in the bucket in terms of the city tree population. I bet there are more trees growing in the roofs of one blocks' worth of decaying East Baltimore rowhouses.

Second, they're replanting more than triple the trees they're cutting down! Yes yes they're not mature trees. Who cares? Does a 'mature tree' process three times the CO2 as the trees that will be replacing them? No one reading this knows, but my bet is no.

Some people will never be able to appreciate the benefits of this race. It puts Baltimore on the map for something other than homicides. It will bring millions in revenue. It will bring thousands of people to the city who might not have otherwise come. Can 50 trees do any of those things?

Baltimore City IS NOT a racetrack. If they want to have racing, go build a track on your land with the appropriate infrastructure. They want to race in the city as they've managed to push through upon the population then race in the city - trees and all!!

Race cars kind of by definition "go fast". How long would the spectator's view of a race car be obstructed by a tree . . . fractions of a second? For that split second we've had to give up trees that lasted for decades in some cases.


William H. Cole IV, the City Council member who represents downtown, called it a "net gain"

Any one in their right mind knows not to believe anything Cole says.

Please stop and think. All your comments are dumb. This event will bring millions to this city. The 14 trees that actually have animals in them are all diseased anyways. I bet you all don't even live in the city. Sorry that for once this city is trying to become noteworthy. Go hug a tree.

I recall the Sun reporting on the plan to remove the trees many months ago, probably last winter. At the time there was push back. So, it suddenly disappeared from public discussion. I remembered and have been waiting for this day to come. I've even been telling people they will be cutting down over 100 trees along Pratt, much to their disbelief.

In true city form, they just DO IT and answer questions later.

TW: According to city and race officials, the total number of trees that have been or are yet to be cut and/or moved for the race is 50.

Actually a mature tree is fairly neutral in terms of carbon sequestration. Think of it this way, the woody mass of a tree is stored carbon. A mature tree doesn't add significant mass to its trunk, where a younger tree does.

Clearly this doesn't mean we should cut down old growth forests, but in terms of street trees that aren't part of a developed ecosystem, it's less important to have mature trees.

A bigger problem is probably loss of leaf canopy to shade sidewalks and cooling effects from evapotranspiration.

Looks like The Baltimore Business Journal reported that they would remove 100 trees in December of 2010.

Also reported around the same time here:

Also on the Grand Prix website, although I have no idea when it was added

// A bigger problem is probably loss of leaf canopy to shade sidewalks and cooling effects from evapotranspiration. //

This. Trees do more than sequester carbon and emit oxygen, most notably, provide shade for pedestrians and buildings alike. The Urban Heat Island Effect is already bad enough in Baltimore - we need MORE trees NOW, full stop. This is nothing more than "destroying the city to save it," as so many Urban Renewal projects have done before. Maybe this isn't quite on a scale of demolishing an entire neighborhood for the Highway to Nowhere, but it's a difference of degree, not kind.

There should be jobs lost over this.

Well, that's the thing. We're getting more trees. About 150 more, if the numbers are to believed. 3:1 is pretty typical when you're dealing with the Parks Dept.

I find it hard to believe that with the trouble the city's forestry folks have keeping up with replacing dying mature trees around the city that they've got the time to cut down healthy ones downtown for what amounts to a free leasing of public space to race organizers. A two-day event may have hotels booked solid downtown, but it isn't a long-term growth strategy for the city-- it's a vanity project for the mayor. As for the forestry code, it's no surprise another Baltimore administration is flexible with the law.

I was City Forester during the 1970's. We planted thousands of trees to make Baltimore a greener, healthier place. Now, for a stupid race, all of these trees are improve sight lines? What a short visioned approach. These new trees will not survive downtown because the City does not have the money to care for them. They will also be subject to vandalism. These replacement trees will be a maximum of 2 1/2 inches in diameter versus what looked like about 18-20 inches in diameter. What a trade, and the ones in pots have to be even smaller.

I have a suggestion for a new motto for Baltimore...Baltimore --the City that doesn't care!

TreeBaltimore was supposed protect the trees of Baltimore and enhance them, in fact there is an office that is part of the city government to do this. However, rather than keep in line with its priorities, the city is doing everything to please the race organizers. What about efforts to protect pedestrains from cars? Forget it. Try crossing Conway street at Sharp as a pedestrian, there is no way to cross since the concrete barriers are in the way. This is no way to run a city. We have been waiting 2 years for a tree to be planted outside our house in the city yet when the race officials say jump, the city says "how high?" I am not voting for Rawlings Black or Cole again!

Where can I find the petition?

Click the link on the word "petition" in this post:

The Baltimore Sun has been printed on paper since 1837. Now theres a waste of trees!

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About the bloggers
Tim WheelerTim Wheeler reports on the environment and Chesapeake Bay. A native of West Virginia, he has focused mainly on Maryland's environment since moving here in 1983. Along the way, he's crewed aboard a skipjack in the bay, canoed under city streets up the Jones Fall from the Inner Harbor, and gone deep underground in a western Maryland coal mine. He loves seafood, rambles in the country and good stories. He hopes to share some here.

Contributor Christy Zuccarini has been blogging about the local DIY craft scene for a year for She brings her pespective on all things handmade to B'More Green, where she will highlight projects you can do yourself as well as crafters who are integrating sustainable methods and materials.

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