GROVE CITY – A group of Grove City residents remains unsatisfied with how the borough is handling tree removal in their neighborhood.
“I don’t think they realize the impact it’s had,” said Bernie Polachek.
Polachek on Tuesday afternoon met with Greg and Linda Guenther, Gary Forsythe, Tom Armour, and Linda McLean at the Guenther home to discuss their concerns.
All of them live on East and West Washington boulevards except for McLean, who lives on Lincoln Avenue.
They said they’ve been dismayed to see large oak trees being cut down by borough crews, and they weren’t notified in advance that the work would be taking place.
The residents have been corresponding with borough officials and speaking during public comment at recent council meetings.
At the March 18 meeting, council members told them that some trees were being cut down because they were interfering with the power lines, and that the electrical system is being upgraded to a higher voltage.
Borough officials also said that the trees are being removed for the safety of Grove City employees and to simplify future maintenance, Guenther said.
Areas including West Washington are transitioning from overhead to underground lines, and McLean wonders why that can’t be done on Lincoln – instead of cutting down some trees. Council members told her it would be too expensive.
The residents have been researching how this kind of project is handled in other towns, and they feel that the borough could be taking other measures, like adding insulators to the existing power lines.
Guenther said he understands the importance of safety, but he and his neighbors – many of them have lived in that area for 20 years or more – can’t recall any problems or incidents with the existing lines.
“For the last 100 years, it’s been status quo,” he said.
The borough owns the right-of-way where the trees in question are located, said Polachek, who counted at least seven trees that have been cut down.
The residents agreed that the trees are part of what they like best about the neighborhood. Removing trees could decrease property values, they said.
“We’ve gone from ‘Pine Grove’ to ‘Grove City’ to ‘Stump City,’” Guenther said.
They said they did not have a chance to offer input or ask questions before work started. Tree removal began in early March, and the electrical upgrades have been ongoing for quite a few months along with work on the water lines and storm sewers, they said.
“These are live, viable trees,” Armour said of how they’re in good condition.
About 20 residents from that area have been communicating with each other, Polachek said. That includes Pat Nudi, who started a petition asking the borough to “halt unnecessary changes and preserve the serenity of our community.”
“Nobody asked for it,” Guenther said of the projects.
Nearly 40 people signed the petition, which also notes concerns about the borough’s plans to build wedge curbs and replace the street lights.
This past fall, council members did agree to temporarily halt the work, and Armour asked during a council meeting if the borough could send out more details to the impacted residents. No one followed up despite council’s OK, Armour said.
Guenther and his wife are also concerned about how some of this work could impact their health. Guenther has a spinal cord stimulator, and Mrs. Guenther has an insulin pump.
The new transformers could impact those devices, so they’re hoping that they will be installed a certain distance from their property.
Guenther and his neighbors continue to share that information and more with borough officials, but they feel that there is lack of communication and no “good faith effort” on the borough’s part to reach a resolution.
“We’ve been completely out of the loop,” he said, adding that he discovered the engineer designing the electrical work has not visited the neighborhood.
The residents said this work has been disruptive to their daily lives, and that it’s not the right way to do business in a small town.
“The did no homework. They just barreled through,” Mrs. Guenther said.
They are proud of their neighborhood and said they don’t want to see the historic and family-friendly atmosphere disappear.
The borough has a tree replacement program, but the new trees wouldn’t be planted where the downed ones were located, Mrs. Guenther said.
“We won’t be around,” Polachek said of being able to watch the trees mature.
He said that there is at least one good thing that has come out of this – he has gotten to know more of his neighbors, and he was glad to discover like-minded families.
“It is about our community,” Guenther said.
Contacted later by phone, Borough Manager Vance Oakes said a total of 15 trees will be removed, and it will be completed within the next two weeks.
He confirmed that some of the trees are being removed and not trimmed because the removal ensures reliable electric service and keeps the borough crews safe.
The borough has already bought some trees for the replacement program, and they will be planted on the opposite side of the street from the downed trees.
“There’s a variety they can choose from,” Oakes said of residents who are interested in the program.
Council’s regular monthly meeting is this Monday at 7 p.m., and there is an infrastructure committee meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday; both meetings will be held at the borough building.
The committee meeting agenda includes information about the electrical system upgrades, and the impacted residents should have received a letter to notify them about the meeting, Oakes said.
Some of the concerned residents said they might attend and ask about the trees.