One of the many charms of Main Street in Murphys is the abundant trees that keep the town cool in the summertime. But these same trees can also pose a danger to the public.
The county recently hired ACRT Pacific LLC (ACRT) to conduct a ground-based survey of the health of the trees in the public right-of-way on Main Street and make recommendations for removal and maintenance.
During a public meeting at the Old School House on Jones Street in Murphys on Sept. 4, Public Works Analyst Jacob Lile summarized ACRT’s study and discussed the county’s plans for the removal, replacement and maintenance of the trees.
Calaveras County District 3 Supervisor Merita Callaway, ACRT President John Wasmer and Michelle Plotnik of the Murphys Business Association (MBA) also provided information and answered questions.
ACRT’s assessment covered 93 trees on Main Street, which comprise a total of 16 different species ranging from under 20 to over 100 years old.
The company used the International Society of Arboricultures’ Basic Tree Assessment Form, which analyzes site factors, tree health, load factors, tree defects and conditions affecting the likelihood of failure, likelihood of impact, likelihood of failure and impact, overall tree risk rating and overall residual risk.
The study found that more than half of the trees on Main Street are in good condition and are not currently in need of maintenance. This group consists mostly of younger trees that have been planted in more recent years.
However, ACRT found that 22 trees are in need of corrective maintenance, and that 23 trees are in poor health, pose a risk to the public, and should be removed.
The most abundant species on Main Street is the liberty elm, which accounts for 37 trees. The trees were planted to replace the more disease-prone American elms, many of which have been lost and replaced over the past 40 years. Most of these trees are relatively healthy, though some are in need of corrective maintenance.
The black locust is the second most prevalent species, totaling 24 trees. ACRT found that many are in poor health and pose a significant risk. Fifteen black locusts, over half of the total, are recommended for removal.
The third most abundant trees are the American elms, which account for six trees, and are the largest species on Main Street. They are also among the oldest, and are showing significant signs of weakness, especially in their branch structures. Three are currently recommended for removal.
Because the American elms are icons of Murphys, ACRT recommended conducting a canopy inspection to ensure that removal is necessary.
The study found that most of the remainder of the trees on Main Street show signs of good and vigorous health, and with minimal maintenance, should remain healthy for years to come.
ACRT concluded that 61 trees pose a low risk to the public; 10 pose a moderate risk; 21 pose a high risk; and one poses an extreme risk.
“Public safety for us is our No. 1 priority, and when you’re evaluating trees in the downtown area it is important to evaluate the potential risks if a tree should fall or if a branch should fall,” Lile said. “We now know that the trees require attention. We have a report that states that. It’s in our best interest to take action in the interest of public safety.”
Lile said that the work is planned for the last two weeks of October, and that it will result in some disruptions.
“There will be sidewalk closures and street closures,” he said. “We have been working with the Murphys Business Association as closely as possible to try and minimize those disruptions.”
About 30 members of the public attended the meeting, and several asked questions about the project.
“Why did (the county) not notice this in all the last 20-some years when (the trees) needed maintenance?” an audience member said.
Plotnik explained that the trees had been slated for removal for some time. Public Works did another study over 25 years ago, “and the plan was to remove all of the trees on Main Street,” she said.
A group of local residents got together and began planting trees in between the older trees, “and we begged Public Works at the time not to remove the trees,” she said.
“The expectation was that those large trees were going to start coming down within five years, so we have kept those trees alive for all of this time,” she said. “So it’s not that no one is paying attention; someone has been paying attention all this time. But it was about a year-and-a-half ago that we started noticing an increase in branches falling, and we expected that this was going to happen.”
Another attendee asked about the timeline for replanting.
“We hope to work with the county and an arborist to create a replanting plan right away,” Plotnik said.
Someone else asked how the trees were going to be maintained.
“Through a partnership between the MBA and the county like we did years ago … and at some point it will become the responsibility of the taxpayers of Calaveras,” Callaway said.
“Anyone who’s interested in helping is welcome,” Plotnik said.