On Tuesday, Aug. 17, several readers wrote to East Lansing Info to ask why three mature honey locust trees in front of the East Lansing Public Library were about to be cut down this week.
The readers expressed displeasure that the trees were being cut down to be replaced with much smaller trees. Writing to ELi, James R. Anderson, an East Lansing resident since 1967, said, “This was a statement of the Library management preference for concrete over trees.”
According to ELPL Director Kristin Shelley, the trees were removed as part of a construction project to fix the sidewalk, steps, and ramp in front of building and to install an interactive children’s garden.
The problems caused by the close proximity of the trees to the building have been ongoing, according to Shelley.
“The discussion of removing the honey locust trees in front of the library has been going on for many years,” wrote Shelley to ELi. “The trees have caused damage to sidewalk, stairs, the roof of the library and have clogged drains for quite some time.”
Shelley said that the trees, despite being regularly pruned and inspected, have dropped branches, blocking walkways and damaging the roof of the ELPL building. The trees have also “caused the sidewalk in front of the library to buckle badly, causing tripping hazards,” said Shelley.
When planning began for the interactive children’s garden and other site improvements in 2018, “the concern of the trees came to the forefront,” said Shelley. And while planning was put on hold due to the pandemic, the ELPL Board of Trustees voted unanimously at its Aug. 19, 2020, public meeting to remove the trees.
“When [external consultant] C2AE did an outside facilities study to determine the sidewalk replacement needs, they suggested the removal of the large honey locust trees in front of the library and included designs for replacing the trees with shrubbery and other tree options as part of the children’s garden plans,” said Shelley.
She also said that “The trees are in the way of the site work and/or would be mortally damaged by heavy equipment during construction.”
ELi readers wished that ELPL had searched for other ways to undertake construction while maintaining the trees. These readers believe that shrubbery and young trees do not adequately replace older, large trees.
“The trees that were massacred yesterday gave needed beauty to the front of the library. The trees absorbed much carbon dioxide, gave needed oxygen, and shaded the front of the library,” said Anderson.
The removal of the honey locusts also comes at a time when residents perceive construction across the entire city as leading to the removal of large trees that are replaced with smaller ones, as ELi reported this summer.
According to the Davey Resource Group’s assessment for the City of East Lansing in 2017, each year, trees in East Lansing provide over $4,500,000 in benefits, remove 200,000 pounds of pollutants and 14,000 tons of carbon, and slow 43 million gallons of stormwater from entering drains.
“Tree canopy has also been proven to increase revenue in business districts, improve public health, and calm traffic in downtown areas,” the group wrote in its analysis.
But Shelley said that the three honey locusts are negatively impacting other trees on the ELPL grounds.
“The trees are competing for nourishment and sunlight, having a definitive effect on the shape and structure of remaining understory trees,” she told ELi.
The removed trees will be “replaced with trees that are indigenous to Michigan and that will not be as invasive to the building and sidewalks.”
“In addition, it is important to note that in 2016, MSUFCU chose the East Lansing Public Library as their location to donate and plant trees. Staff from the library and MSUFCU planted 16 to 18 trees on the grounds of the library,” said Shelley.
Work on the interactive children’s garden will begin during the spring or summer of 2022 and will be funded through donations and fundraising efforts, according to Shelley. The garden will include learning and play areas in addition to a rain garden, trees, flowers, and shrubs.
This story was updated at 11:45 a.m. on Aug. 20, 2021, to include information on the replacement trees.