By Mike LaBella
---- — The city is adding a rural touch to much of its asphalt jungle.
Haverhill has planted more than a dozen young elm trees in the median strips on Bailey and Ginty boulevards this summer, continuing a trend that began during Mayor James Fiorentini’s first term.
In the last several years, the city has added 400 or more trees to the landscape. This year’s goal is to plant 100 more, the mayor said. But, the unexpected high cost of hiring an outside contractor to plant and care for the new trees is slowing down the effort.
The city planted 35 Dutch elm disease-resistant trees this summer along the two inner-city boulevards and in an island near White’s Corner and along the Main Street side of City Hall.
“The goal is to have beautiful tree-lined streets, but it’s a much slower process than I thought it would be,” Fiorentini said.
“Realistically we’ll probably get to 50 additional trees in the fall,” he said, adding they will include various species. “We are still working on our tree plans, but since we don’t have the manpower, we have to hire private companies to do it and that’s expensive.”
Public Works Director Michael Stankovich said the plan is to plant new trees this fall in various neighborhoods, which are still being chosen.
“Our first priority is to replace trees that have been removed due to disease, old age or damage,” Stankovich said. “The next priority is to plant new trees in areas where residents have requested them.”
The city has planted an average of 100 trees in each of the last five years, Stankovich said.
The mayor’s dream has been to return to a time when many of the city’s streets were lined with trees. That was decades before diseases and hurricanes took a toll.
“When you look at old pictures of Haverhill, you see the tree-lined streets,” Fiorentini said. “We’ve lost thousands of trees over the years through Dutch elm disease and hurricanes that knocked the diseased trees down.
“My goal is to have the city plant 500 trees over five years,” Fiorentini said.
Tree planting and watering is outsourced, with money to pay the cost coming from the city budget, Community Development Block Grant money from the federal government and state grant money, the mayor said.
David Van Dam, the mayor’s chief of staff, said additional money to plant trees will come from Columbia Pictures as a thank-you to the city for being a good host and partner this summer during the filming of a movie staring Denzel Washington. Some scenes for the movie “The Equalizer” were filmed at the former Lowe’s store off Broadway.
“They know the mayor is passionate about tree planting and they wanted to be part of it,” Van Dam said of the movie-makers. “We’re still working out the details.”
Along with higher-than-expected costs of planting and caring for new trees, technical problems can slow things down, such as having to adhere to laws ensuring sidewalks are not obstructed and having to call in DigSafe.
“Whether it’s a homeowner who wants to plant a tree or the city, you have to ensure you don’t damage any underground utility lines,” Stankovich said. “We’ve seen situations where there were gas lines and other utilities that were discovered and prevented us from planting.”
Fiorentini said there is also the practical problem that not all residents want trees in front of their homes.
“Our policy is if you’re on a main drag, we want tree-lined streets and if you’re on a small side street, we probably won’t plant one unless they are requested by residents,” he said.
Some residents don’t want new trees and instead ask that existing trees be taken down for various reasons, such as having to deal with too many leaves to rake in the fall and a desire for more sunlight on their property.
“We have a big backlog of requests for trees, and also a list of trees that residents want taken down,” Fiorentini said.
Choosing where to plant new trees is also a challenge and time consuming.
“What I’d like to do is appoint a tree committee, like Newburyport has, that picks out locations for trees, but we just don’t have time for that now,” Fiorentini said.
Past plantings have taken place along Columbia Park, Main Street in the area of Walnut Square School, along Lincoln Avenue and Elm Street.
Fiorentini said that as part of the state’s reconstruction of South Main Street (Route 125), he insisted the state plant trees along that stretch of roadway. More than 100 trees were planted along sidewalks on both sides of South Main Street from Bradford Common south to the Boston Road area, he said.
“People come to me all the time with pictures of Haverhill in the old days and say, ‘Look at this, the city was so beautiful,’’’ the mayor said.