North St. Paul council allows workgroup to explore saving Silver Lake trees

Aundrea Kinney/Review • At presstime, the 71 trees expected to be removed for North St. Paul’s 2018 Street and Utility Public Improvement Project had been reduced to about 50 trees, with city staff and a new resident workgroup examining other ways to try to save even more trees.

The North St. Paul City Council unanimously agreed Aug. 21 to allow a resident workgroup to research options to minimize the loss of trees to utility and road work that’s already underway near Silver Lake. 

Work is being done on 19th Avenue, Lake Boulevard, East Poplar Avenue, Swan Avenue, East 20th Avenue and Park Row. The road projects have been contentiously debated at city meetings, with conversations between the city and its residents held at several city council workshops, open house events, public forums and city council meetings, in addition to personal conversations.


‘Some trees’

A letter sent to area residents on June 19 showed 71 trees in the project area needing to be removed, and offered affected residents a selection of tree species to replace any trees that are cut down.

In response to the letter, residents of the affected streets held a neighborhood meeting Aug. 1 to see what could be done to save more of the trees. They gathered support from 62 of the 82 affected homes, according to spokesperson Kathy Kater, who spoke Aug. 21 on behalf of the newly formed Save the Silver Lake Trees and Lake Committee, which is made up of seven residents.

She said that it seemed most residents of the affected neighborhoods felt the city had done a good job keeping residents informed and listening to their perspectives. 

“People felt like that was pretty good, but in that whole time the impression that we were given was that some trees would naturally have to be lost to this project.” Kater said, pointing out that “some trees” means different things to different people and the news of 71 trees needing to be removed came as a shock.


Trees versus safety

Kater explained that the goal of the requested workgroup would be to explore different ways to design the road reconstruction to try and minimize the trees that have to be cut down, adding that the group believes that saving the trees should be “a top priority of the city.”

“The city frequently describes the area around Silver Lake as the crown jewel of North St. Paul,” Kater said. “In a neighborhood like that, saving the trees should be a dominant factor. It should carry equal weight  — at least equal weight  — along with risk, safety and cost, which were the three factors that city engineer Morgan Dawley has said to us are the usual top considerations for a street project.”

Council member Tom Sonnek, who in previous meetings championed safety as one of several reasons for a sidewalk to be added along Lake Boulevard, questioned Kater’s comments, though he ultimately seconded the motion to allow the workgroup to form.

“I think everybody is interested in saving whatever trees we can, but to what degree, that’s the question,” Sonnek said. “That seems a little concerning to me  — that we value saving trees [as equal to] safety?”

Kater compared the project to a hypothetical highway project in the Grand Canyon, noting that risk, safety and cost would all be factors, but so would the possibility of “devastating the Grand Canyon,” though she later conceded, “I don t want anybody to die because we saved a tree.”


Working around the trees

At the request of council member Jan Walczak, Dawley provided at the Aug. 21 meeting an updated count of trees affected by the project. He explained that about 50 trees could still be affected, but other than the utility component of the reconstruction, all parts of the project had been put on hold prior to the meeting.

For the utility component there are currently some 16 trees slated for removal, not including ones that have been requested by other residents for removal, Dawley said.

“Only about three of those are related to mainline water main extension, and are more difficult to try to find solutions for,” Dawley explained, adding that for the remaining 13 trees, staff has begun reaching out to property owners to evaluate alternate approaches for installing sewer lines, water lines or both, where the utilities would not affect the trees.

Dawley said that while an exact number would be based on the specifics of each property, in general there would be a savings of about $1,000 for each tree that does not have to be removed and replaced, but each work-around could cost between $1,000 and $3,000, a cost that would likely fall to the city.

“Since we have run into this concern about the trees, the focus has been obviously the utilities, and we still want to move ahead with the utilities, largely because as we all know Swan Avenue especially has been hit with several water main breaks,” said Mayor Mike Kuehn. “We don’t want to go another year of that, but I personally see no reason why we can’t continue ... to work on this issue of trees.”

City Manager Craig Waldron indicated at the meeting that the workgroup will likely be several members of the Save the Silver Lake Trees and Lake Committee as well as representation from city staff and the city council.

“We may not please everybody,” said Kuehn, “but at least we’re going to get closer, I think, than we are now.”


Special assessments

The North St. Paul City Council held a public hearing Aug. 21 on special assessments for the 2018 Street and Utility Public Improvement Project, which comes with an estimated $6.2 million price tag.

According to a city presentation, in addition to roughly $600,000 in special assessments, the project will be paid for with $2.6 million from city street capital improvement program funds, $1.2 million from city waste water utility funds, $1.2 million from city water utility funds, about $550,000 from city surface water utility funds and about $120,000 from Maplewood for part of the project the two cities are collaborating on.

The 2018 Street and Utility Public Improvement Project aims to address cracks and potholes in the pavement as well as problems with the sanitary sewer system, water mains and storm sewers.

Lake Boulevard, Swan Avenue, Popular Avenue and 19th Avenue will undergo full reconstruction of the streets and underground utilities, while Park Row, 20th Avenue and the east end of 19th Avenue East will undergo a full-depth pavement reclamation as well as some utility improvements. A concrete sidewalk will also be added on Lake Boulevard.

The utility work began Aug. 27, after this edition of the Review went to print, and the street construction is expected to begin in May 2019. City engineer Morgan Dawley noted in a presentation at the Aug. 21 city council meeting that the affected roads will be temporarily paved before winter 2018-2019, so that the city can still plow them and residents can still safely use them in the winter months.

In most cases, residents in the project area will be charged $64 per foot of property along the project. Residents of Park Row, 20th Avenue and the east end of 19th Avenue East are only being charged $35 per foot because those streets are slated for reclamation, which is cheaper than the reconstruction done on other project area streets.

The assessments are only for the street work, not the utility work that is included in the project, noted Dawley during the meeting.

Six out of 113 affected households filed appeals, according to City Clerk Mary Mills.

Also during the meeting, the city council unanimously voted to extend the intrest-free payment period until Nov. 10, instead of allowing it to expire Sept. 21. Following the interest-free payment period, the interest on assessments will be set at 5.25 percent per year, according to the presentation.

– Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651-748-7822 or

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