by Joni Astrup
A 200-year-old oak tree in Elk River will live to see another day.
The tree is in the city’s right of way and was slated to be cut down as part of a street reconstruction project proposed for this summer.
But Elk River Council Member Barb Burandt took up its cause. People had approached her with concerns about losing the towering old tree, located at the northeast corner of Gates and Third, and Burandt brought it up at the Monday, March 18, City Council meeting.
“I thought if we could try to make a safe intersection and preserve the tree, that it would be something I would encourage,” Burandt said. The tree is at least 200 years old, she said.
The old oak was proposed to be cut down to allow for better alignment of Third Street on the east and west sides of Gates, as part of a larger street reconstruction project planned in the area.
The two parts of the Third Street are offset now, and the project would have created a sweeping curve to better align them, though still not perfectly. The city would have to acquire right of way to achieve a direct alignment, according to City Engineer Justin Femrite.
Femrite, meanwhile, researched the accident history at that intersection and found there have been four accidents that resulted in property damage in the last five years. Two of the crashes also resulted in injury. None were related to the fact that Third Street doesn’t line up on either side of Gates.
With that in mind, Femrite talked to the firm working on the street plans and offered an alternative that saves the tree by reconstructing the street in an alignment similar to what it is now. The cost would be about $1,000 more, but Femrite said they would save money by not cutting down the tree.
Council Member Stewart Wilson wondered whether the street construction would damage the tree and possibly cause it to die.
Femrite said the project would require fairly minimal depth excavation but some roots would be impacted. “I would not anticipate that the damage we would cause would affect a tree that size, but I guess I can’t say for sure,” he said.
However, in similar cases in the past, Femrite said the trees have not been damaged.
Burandt said the tree is a white oak, which is considered more resilient than some other species.
She made the motion to proceed with the alternative street design that saves the tree. The motion passed 4-1 with Council Member Paul Motin voting against. He also would like to save the tree, but said he doesn’t feel the alternative design that preserves the tree is as safe for motorists as the original plan. See the two plans below.