HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – When it comes to trees, Harrisburg looks to turn over a new leaf with the recent hire of a city arborist.
Looking at leaves has always been a passion for Erik Josephson. With a background in landscape architecture, the certified arborist has been planted as the latest branch inside Mayor Eric Papenfuse’s administration.
“Trees in Harrisburg are beautiful,” he said.
As city arborist, Josephson said he’s well aware of Harrisburg past timber troubles.
Last fall, Public Works Director Aaron Johnson gave permission for the owner of the former Mary K Mansions to scalp a section of trees along the riverbank to make way for a better view for the soon-to-be Mansion Bed-and-Breakfast.
In May, dozens of pink Xs mysteriously appeared on trees along Front Street. Neither PennDOT nor the city would claim responsibility for the confusion, but both sides insisted that only four trees on the riverside would come down to make way for handicapped-accessible ramps.
Members of Harrisburg’s Environmental Advisory Council poked holes at the process of publicly vetting tree removal. According to city officials, the former Shade Tree Commission, which held public meetings on tree issues, dissolved under former Mayor Linda Thompson.
Papenfuse previously admitted there was not a process, which is why he vouched for the hiring of an arborist.
Josephson said he will be the judge of what may or may not get removed.
“I’ll go out and assess the tree for removal, then we’ll issue a permit for removal,” he said. “Sometimes, we’ll make the permit contingent upon replanting.”
Josephson and City Engineer Wayne Martin discussed an idea to adopt a three-to-one rule. They said for every one tree removed, three trees must be replaced.
“It adds to quality of life for residents,” Martin said.
Social media has been abuzz in recent weeks with residents’ concerns over trees in many areas of the city. Martin pointed out a project that will add 100 trees and 200 shrubs by fall.
The Asylum Run project will plant the greenery around the former state hospital property, which will be sold by the Department of General Services. Martin said the addition of trees will not only help with aesthetics, but the environmental impact could help reduce costs for residents.
“It is a priority to add trees where appropriate and to help maintain these storm waters,” he said. “Also, residents do enjoy a discount on their flood insurance rates due to flood mitigation projects.”
Martin said it was a 2008 project that finally has legs with the help of several federal grants.
Martin and Erikson want public input. They scheduled a public meeting to be held at the Civic Club on Aug. 24 at 6 p.m.
Eirkson said a recent urban canopy survey revealed Harrisburg could use a slight increase in its overall percentage of trees, but said the Capital City had high marks in shade and diversity of trees.
“We’re not low,” he said. “And we’re doing well there. Trees, there are some that need maintenance and we do need replanting projects. That’s all happening now.”