Trimming turmoil

Some residents are buzzing in anger over a PennDOT-ordered lopping of limbs – curb to sky – from trees along Broad Avenue between 24th and 31st streets, in preparation for repaving.

“A tornado has hit Altoona,” wrote Ron Balest in a letter to the Mirror.

“It looks absolutely terrible,” wrote Matt Mason in another letter. “Everyone’s trees were cut in half.”

Neither PennDOT nor contractor Grannas Brothers Stone and Asphalt Co. Inc. obtained a permit for the work along the protected historic corridor, and the work itself doesn’t meet the city’s trimming standards, said city Planning Director Lee Slusser.

A PennDOT District 9 executive has “expressed regret,” and someone from the agency will meet today with city and Shade Tree Commission officials – and possibly a tree expert – to “see what can be done,” said Slusser and city Councilman Dave Butterbaugh.

“It’s disappointing that nobody really stepped back and realized what they were doing,” Butterbaugh said. “It wouldn’t have happened had we been notified.”

Grannas was only doing what the contract called for, said company Vice President Scott Grannas and Brad Brumbaugh, PennDOT district executive for construction.

Grannas was working on a maintenance contract, which called for the cutting to improve motorist safety by reducing the risk of limbs falling into the street and by opening the street to sunlight to minimize icing in winter, according to Grannas and Brumbaugh.

Not all maintenance contracts call for such radical pruning, Brumbaugh said.

Because of the controversy, PennDOT will re-examine that approach, he said.

A far less radical approach – cutting low-hanging limbs and trees that project into the roadway – would have sufficed to prepare for paving, according to Slusser.

It’s too late to repair the trees, but the experts should be able to determine which are likely to fall – possibly onto houses – and which are just “ugly,” Slusser said.

Tree trimming is always controversial, especially in the city, Grannas said.

“It does not surprise me that people are upset,” he added.

But the trimmed trees will grow back, reducing the ugliness, he said.

“We understand the concerns,” Brumbaugh said. “We’re mobilizing as quickly as possible to address those concerns.”

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.