Updated: Jan 22
Can Kennett Trails Alliance and designers make the destruction of 400 trees sound like a good idea?
As described elsewhere, the $7,000,000 Chandler Mill sidepath requires the destruction of more than 400 trees, some of which are more than 200 years old. In fact, once the broad outlines of the design had been established by January 2021, the design team knew they had no choice but to clear cut a 15-20’ swath along the 1.4 mile road, destroying almost 300 trees. A year later, that number had increased by almost 40%.
So how to prevent a public outcry? Ask your very well-paid team of designers to implement to bury, confuse, or spin the extent of the destruction. In this post, we review some of the strategies used, like claims that a 2 ½ gallon 1” tree is an adequate substitute for a tree 3’ in diameter that has been growing for decades, as illustrated here. The result? The public may remain unaware of the extent of the destruction until it is too late (unless Supervisors agree to roll out construction in stages while exploring other options). Taken together, we think these various strategies constitute a marketing campaign to paint the sidepath in the most favorable light possible, instead of a campaign to educate the public about the many possible choices. This become especially apparent when considered alongside other misleading messaging, which we will lay out in future posts..
Begin by not reporting or simply burying the extent of the destruction
By the end of January 2021, the design team would have clearly understood that at least a 10-15’ swath of trees would have to be cut to make way for the sidepath. Nonetheless, the designers made no attempt to convey the extent of the destruction in their first meetings with neighbors in January and February of 2021. When the 263 page preliminary engineering report was first presented to the Trail and Sidewalks Committee on March 12, 2021, the only mention of the 300+ trees to be destroyed was on a small table on p. 260. But we noticed, and made sure to express our concern by publicly citing these data. Nonetheless, during their special presentation to the Kennett Township Board of Supervisors (KT-BoS) on March 25, 2021, the designer team, led by Biohabitat's Jennifer Dowdell, pointedly avoided citing the actual number of trees to be removed, though they did make sure to “comment on the importance and love of trees”....
And the attempts to bury the destruction have continued. We discovered that the actual number of trees to be removed has grown inexplicably between April 2021 and March 2022 from 295 trees to at least 411 now slated for destruction. This 40% increase was never reported in presentations to the general public until the October 2022 Open House, where designers announced they would consider no more changes.
Downplay the destruction by emphasizing that some of the trees might not be worth saving.
Aware of a potential growing public concern, the design team and KTA rolled out the first of several other strategies: downplaying the destruction. During the special presentation on March 25, 2021 , they announced that they had begun an analysis of the number of trees that were Ash or dead or dying or invasive. In a presentation at the next meeting of the KT-BoS on April 7, they “updated” the number of trees to be destroyed downward to 295 instead of 321 trees, emphasizing the many Ash, dead, dying or invasive trees. But in fact, 56% set to be cut down were healthy, native trees. 35-40 of which were at least 75-80 years old, including some almost 5’ in diameter. And within a year the number cut down had been increased from 295 to 411.
Always highlight the 8% of the roadway where designers made efforts to spare larger trees
Whenever illustrating to the public where trees might be destroyed, designers always selected the one section where some larger trees were preserved - the short boardwalk section, where the trail goes off of the road (see illustration below). This is the only section where larger trees next to the road are preserved, and constitutes about 7.5% of the entire roadway. Of course, the designers will still have to clear a 15-20' wide swath, just further into the woods.
The designers have repeatedly used this as evidence of their "stewardship of the canopy" (see below). Our review of the presentations to the public confirms that the designers never made it clear that in fact a 15-20’ wide swath would be cut along the remaining 90+% of the roadway, destroying virtually all of the canopy. In fact, the slides making this destruction clear were deleted from the presentation to the township’s Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC) in March 2022. To find the relevant plans, the public would have to scroll through hundreds of pages across dozens of documents until they found pages 19-29 of the “progress plan”.
Play up the number of trees to be re-planted without mentioning how long before they approach maturity
Beginning with the October 2021 Open House, the designers were quick to point out that they would be planting more trees than they would be taking out. What is the final number? In March 2022, the designers reported to the EAC that they would plant 479 trees to replace the 411 they will destroy. At the October 2021 and 2022 open houses, presentations played up the possibility that they are going beyond the requirements.
So what is the problem? The designers have always made sure to include colorful pictures of the trees they would replant, picture of beautiful and fully grown trees. But the designers did not reveal to the public exactly what they would replant until October 2022 (and failed to mention this to either the supervisors or the EAC). Of the 479 trees to be planted, more than one half (252) will be “whips” barely an inch in diameter (these typically come in 2 ½ gallon pots and barely reach 4’ in height - see diagram at the top). 80 will be 2 ½” in diameter, and 47 will be large (4”) trees. As illustrated above, these are hardly adequate substitutes. So despite claims of responsible stewardship, the canopy will not begin to recover for at least a generation, assuming the trees survive.
Play up other dubious “benefits”
During their special presentation to the Board of Supervisors on March 25, 2021, the designers rolled out other arguments about the potential “benefits” of cutting down more than 400 trees.
They discussed how dead or dying trees “could impact safety and power outages in the future”, but failed to note that many of these trees are on the opposite side of the road from power lines.
Claims that the designers can plan on “using the snags as the important habitat they are for bugs, beetles, or a nurse log for mushrooms” would likely confuse many residents. Why? First, because they also never discussed the many trees that are not in the direct path of the trail but that will die all the same. As described elsewhere, trees up to 30’ from the trail might be killed through the disturbance resulting from construction…. And second, how can they leave these up as snags in the light of the apparent safety risks previously cited?
Designers “discussed options for saving or repurposing those trees into reclaimed furnishings”, and their presentation to EAC in March 2022 included pictures showing how this might occur. But by October 2022, they reported that fewer than 6 trees - about 2% of those cut down - would be repurposed for furniture.
Designers wrapped up with a trio of vague aspirations that somehow this will all be for the better in the end….
“While this project will enhance the experience of its human users, the experience of wildlife will also be enhanced, and they are planning their design and planting choices to support that long-term ecological function”... Just what “experience of wildlife” they are referring to remains unclear.
“... they are working to understand the balance between maintaining the wooded canopy experience of Chandler Mill Road while integrating this trail.” As noted elsewhere, the “wooded canopy experience” is forever changed because the path will have permanently pushed the canopy back from the road by at least 15 feet… and until new trees have a chance to mature, the canopy will be pushed back by 30-40’.
“... design challenges are not considered a negative. Rather, the team of consultants are excited to find a more creative way to solve them in response to the ecosystem in the next phase of design”. It is unclear how many residents would be as “excited” as the design team, with their township going into debt for a decade as a result of the skyrocketing costs. Perhaps the designers are referring to their excitement over the $1,000,000 in fees the designers will take home, especially with the promise of millions more in design fees for future Greenway segments.
Make other vague promises to mitigate the destruction
During their special presentation to the Board of Supervisors on March 25, 2021, the design team offered other vague promises
“...there will be strong considerations as to how to avoid the loss of some of the most significant healthy, older trees. (They) offered that the path could potentially be designed around them”. But by the fall, KTA refused to recognize federal guidelines that allowed paths like these to be narrowed for circumstances just like these.
During the same March 25, 2021 meeting, the designers also claimed that these healthy, older trees “could serve as an intentional stopping point for a lookout.” But residents recoiled at the scale of grossly oversized lookouts presented at the October 2021 open house. Still others commented on the irony of cutting down still more trees to give the public an unobstructed view of the lucky survivors of the designer's "stewardship".
We believe that the many strategies listed above, combined with the stream of lush photos depicting a forest that only our grandchildren or great grandchildren might eventually see, have lulled residents, and distracted them from the extent of the destruction. We have advocated for a two stage construction process: in a first stage, the Greenway is constructed as designed from Hillendale to Oriole, so that the public can visualize the impact while other alternatives are piloted south of Oriole. So far, supervisors have refused to consider any such alternatives.
What you can do!