Community

New trees and teen jobs combine in deal approved in Cedar Rapids

Partnership replaces city's typical program for planting on rights of way

Transamerica’s J.K. Wang (right) keeps a young tree upright while Jo Ann McNiel, a contract employee with Trees Forever, pushes dirt into a hole April 22, 2015, at Indian Creek Nature Center’s Amazing Space campus. On Tuesday, the Cedar Rapids City Council approved a partnership with Trees Forever that will employ local teenagers in planting trees on city property. Transamerica is among the partners in the program. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Transamerica’s J.K. Wang (right) keeps a young tree upright while Jo Ann McNiel, a contract employee with Trees Forever, pushes dirt into a hole April 22, 2015, at Indian Creek Nature Center’s Amazing Space campus. On Tuesday, the Cedar Rapids City Council approved a partnership with Trees Forever that will employ local teenagers in planting trees on city property. Transamerica is among the partners in the program. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Under a new initiative, Cedar Rapids will forgo competitive bidding for annual tree planting in favor of forming a partnership with a Marion nonprofit — Trees Forever — to handle most plantings in public rights of way and foster a youth employment program.

Initially, about 10 local teenagers ages 14 to 18 are expected to earn $10 an hour planting, caring for and watering trees through the program called Growing Futures. Similar programs operate in Des Moines, Indianapolis and Atlanta.

“More trees will survive and I love the training program to this and everything about it,” Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart said Tuesday before voting for it.

The City Council, at its regular meeting Tuesday, approved the plan unanimously. The agreement pays Trees Forever $125,000 a year for five years, or $625,000 total, and calls for the planting of at least 2,150 trees in that time. Some additional tree plantings outside the scope of the contact — such as those tied to major road repairs — is also expected.

“The number of trees does align with the trees that we planted in the past or actually what we would project to be planting in future years based on survival rates and what we see for estimated cost for those trees,” said Scott Hock, Cedar Rapids Parks and Recreation director.

City Arborist Todd Fagan will work with Trees Forever on tree selection, Hock said.

The city had been paying $150,000 a year for 700 to 800 plantings, though not all of those trees were paid for through the comparable program.

A 2016 inventory identified 2,251 trees on public rights of way in poor, dead or critical condition, and recommended 17,996 new tree plantings.

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Some ash trees already have been removed due to the invasive emerald ash borer, and in time the full population of ashes is expected to be wiped out.

The city has set out to diversify its new crop to not include any more than 5 percent of any one type of tree.

The agreement with Trees Forever includes watering and tree care, which previous contracts had not included. Officials anticipate that will help prevent premature decline.

“We believe the watering and tree care will be a huge benefit to the number of trees that make it and the survival rate,” Hock said.

He said traditionally about 15 percent of new plantings do not survive.

The Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation and Transamerica are among sponsors of the program. The employees, who already have been hired, will work for Trees Forever.

City officials praised the program for recruiting a diverse workforce and for enabling teenagers to learn new skills and develop some job experience.

In addition to the plantings, the teenagers also will participate in professional and personal development activities, which include lessons in financial literacy, resume building, wilderness survival training and more. The students will work eight hours a week for five to six weeks in the fall and spring, and 20 hours a week for 10 weeks over the summer. Their work begins Saturday.

“This is a great opportunity to foster growth for the next generation of young people and the next generation of trees, side-by-side,” Shannon Ramsay, Trees Forever chief executive and founding president, said in a news release.

In other news:

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• The council approved a $149,721 contract with Crane Associates Inc. of Burlington, Vt., for a River Recreation Feasibility and Implementation Study, which will contemplate recreational opportunities on the Cedar River and examine removal of the 5-in-1 Dam, a roller dam downstream and dredging, among large scale possibilities.

• The city consolidated the roles of city treasurer, controller-auditor and disbursement officer, and the receipt, management and disbursement of city funds, and city finance director under the purview of City Finance Director Casey Drew. Drew had been carrying out many of those duties already, so this change largely updates the city code, Hart said.

Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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