Arborist: Pruning exposed tree flaws

It sounded self-serving when a PennDOT employee on Wednesday said the hacking of tree limbs on Broad Avenue might have been a blessing in disguise, after a walk-along assessment by city and PennDOT officials and a Penn State arborist.

But the arborist – there at the request of those aggrieved city officials – agreed.

About 70 trees between 24th and 31st streets were cut back so they didn’t extend over Broad Avenue. But the severe pruning has brought criticism from residents and city officials, who said it violated city rules.

Tom Ford, a horticultural educator with Penn State Cooperative Extension, said 44 of the trees should be removed after the pruning, but said many of them probably should have been cut down anyway.

The pruning exposed the flaws in the nature of the trees, and in some cases from damage resulting from prior improper pruning, Ford said.

Some of the trees posed a danger because they could fall on people, vehicles and homes.

In any event, officials from PennDOT and the city will meet today in an attempt to come up with a solution, but it’s not certain who will pay for that.

PennDOT, which issued the contract that called for the pruning, has not committed to pay for anything at this point, Brad Brumbaugh, PennDOT district executive for construction, said.

The agency wants to turn a negative into a positive.

Altoona Mayor Bill Schirf said he doesn’t think property owners should have to pay to remove the damaged trees. Clearly, PennDOT violated the city ordinance that requires a permit before pruning street trees in certain areas, including the affected area of Broad Avenue, Schirf said.

City Councilman Dave Butterbaugh said he’s pleased all of the parties are working together.

PennDOT’s contract called for pruning the trees from curb to sky to reduce the risk of limbs falling in the street and to open the street to more sunlight to minimize icing in the winter.

Ford said in general street trees are problematic because of the narrow space between the curb and sidewalk, which is only suitable for certain types of trees.

The average life of a street tree nationally is seven years, and the narrow space currently available only leaves room to accommodate trees for about that long.