116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Now comes the hard part.
The Cedar Rapids City Council has signed off on an ambitious 10-year, $37 million ReLeaf plan to replace tens of thousands of trees destroyed and damaged by the August 2020 derecho. More than 42,000 trees on public land, including parks and along streets, will be replanted, along with efforts to educate and offer incentives and grants to private and institutional landowners.
The city, which is partnering with Marion-based Trees Forever, is kicking in $1 million annually. Private fundraising is underway and gifts from the local business community and residents are coming in at an encouraging pace. The sheer size and scope of the plan are unprecedented, according to city leaders.
“This has not been done before,” City Manager Jeff Pomeranz told our editorial board this week.
The challenge now is to sustain support and momentum behind the plan for the next decade. Much more private fundraising is needed to sustain the effort. Scores of volunteers, trained as “TreeKeepers” will be needed. The city will be putting out requests for proposals from the private sector to provide trees, plant them and maintain them. New plantings must be regularly watered for two years using watering systems that will still require thousands of trees to be watered weekly.
Will the RFPs draw affordable bids by nurseries with the capability to handle the work? When the city asked for bids to remove more than 9,000 stumps, the bids received didn’t fit the city’s removal time frame so city crews will handle the job. Will enough trees be available to keep ReLeaf on track?
If those issues can be overcome, the plan is certainly set up for success. ReLeaf sets out detailed provisions on which trees will be planted in different parts of the city in an effort to create species diversity. Using tree equity scores, lower-income neighborhoods that may have lacked adequate tree cover before the derecho will emerge from ReLeaf with more trees.
The success of the plan has both environmental and economic implications. The loss of trees meant residents paid more last summer to cool their homes as the lack of shade intensified the urban heat island effect. Trees help guard against erosion, improve water quality and can help lessen flash flooding.
They’re also a vital part of the identity of a city that, before the storm, prided itself on its neighborhoods shaded by mature trees.
ReLeaf is a trailblazing project that could provide an unprecedented example of post-disaster resiliency. That’s important as a changing climate spawns more intense weather events. We’re cautiously confident Cedar Rapids can rise to the challenge.
(319) 398-8262; firstname.lastname@example.org