It began last week with a post to Facebook by Herman Mhire, a retired UL art professor and former director of the University Art Museum: “There are many reasons why Lafayette will never be a great city. The barbaric pruning of its majestic oak trees is a prime example. Surely there must exist a reasonable alternative.” Mhire also posted three photos to illustrate his comment: of a live oak cut away from power lines draped across a teetering creosote-coated pole at the corner of Myrtle Boulevard and Jeanne Street near his home in Oaklawn, one of Lafayette’s oldest and most densely treed neighborhoods abutting the southwest corner of Four Corners.
Facebook raged right along: “How ridiculous to permit this kind of pruning,” one commenter remarked. “Deplorable! Shocking!” Mhire replied. And so it went, with others posting images from Souvenir Heights and other woody, old-Lafayette neighborhoods where Asplundh, the company contracted with Lafayette Utilities System for annual tree trimming — a necessity to prevent extended blackouts caused by limbs falling onto power lines during hurricanes and other severe weather events — has made a pass.
Eventually Councilman Bruce Conque, who represents most of these old neighborhoods in District 6, the heart of the city of Lafayette, was pulled into the thread. On Tuesday, Conque notified members of the Oaklawn Subdivision Facebook group that LUS would suspend tree trimming until after a June 27 public meeting at which representatives of LUS, Asplundh and the affected neighborhoods could come together and discuss what many consider anti-arborist tendencies by the city and its tree-trimming contractor.
LUS Director Terry Huval confirmed the suspension of trimming late Monday afternoon: “We are responding to the neighborhoods’ concerns about LUS’s tree trimming policy by offering an opportunity to engage in a conversation about the program, its purpose and long-term commitments,” Huval wrote via text message. “We think delaying tree trimming in this specific area until after this meeting will not adversely impact our schedule to be prepared for the height of the storm season.”
The city, through LUS, pays about $1.5 million annually to keep trees clear of power lines — mostly live oaks, which tend to grow wide rather than tall, but any trees deemed a threat to power lines. The effort is concentrated in older areas of the city where the population of mature trees is concentrated.
Conque says the trimming program is designed on a five-year rotation — meaning trees are trimmed away from the power lines enough that they shouldn’t need to be trimmed again for five years. But heavy rainfall and other factors affect growth rate, so some areas need additional trimming sooner.
“I received complaints,” Conque said by telephone Tuesday afternoon. “I’ve been monitoring the neighborhood [Facebook pages] and the issue needs to be addressed — that’s the purpose of the scheduled meeting on the 27th.”
That meeting will take place at City Hall. The public is invited to attend. Check the INDsider’s Calendar of Events in the coming weeks for details.