Tuesday, February 3, 2015

What We Know about Tree-Gate So Far

Click to enlarge image. Picture taken 1/12/15. Note protective netting around the trunk and not the dripline. Where was the Department of  Engineering project inspector?
elpasonaturally will be getting more information soon about Tree-gate, the scandal surrounding Elpasoans' Holiday Christmas tree in San Jacinto Park. At first the City claimed that negligence may have damaged the tree beyond the hope of saving. Now they claim that they might be able to save it. 

The scandal, of course, is more widespread than one tree. It has to do with the negligence of the City Engineering Department.  Here's what we know:

The palms in the park were not salvaged nor taken to the El Paso tree farm. They were cut down and they were taken to the landfill. They could have been used elsewhere in the city. This in total disregard of the city's Tree Care Policy Manual.

The project drawings indicate that Tree 5, a Pinus halepensis - the beloved Christmas tree, was to be protected. Project drawings indicate that the contractor knew to protect the tree below the dripline. Yet, the orange netting to protect the tree was just around the base or trunk of the tree when this story broke. It has since been extended but only to half of the dripline, the circumference of the canopy. Look at the image above and see that the orange netting was wrapped tightly around the base/trunk of the tree when Tree-gate began to be exposed. Now see a web cam from about January 29th. The netting was extended but still not according to the project spec drawings or the requirements of the City Tree Policy Manual. Web cam today reveals the same thing which means that the project inspector from the Department of Engineering has still not obeyed city policy. (Thank you elpasospeak for the January web cam post.) 

It is the City's responsibility - the responsibility of the project inspector of the Department of Engineering - to make sure that the project guidelines are followed. Obviously, he/she did not do so. As noted before, City Engineering doesn't follow rules that they don't want to follow. They do not listen to the City Arborist or anyone else.

In an Open Records Request I asked for the project specifications. I received only the drawings - enough nevertheless to see that guidelines for tree protection were not enforced by the Department of Engineering inspector. However, I wonder why I did not recive the specs. Oversight or an attempt to cover-up? We already know that City Manager, Tommy Gonzalez, sent an email decrying that the condition of the tree had gone public. He wanted to keep the scandal under wraps.

The Public Affairs Coordinator for the Engineering Department sent out what was obviously dictated memo to the Mayor and City Council when the scandal was first brought to public attention. By itself the memo authenticates that the project inspector had not been doing his job. The memo also said that the palms had been salvaged. That's just false. They were hauled to the landfill!

Hearsay of course, but people are coming forward to tell about mordidas and the Department of Engineering at other projects. Those stories will be checked out.

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