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Federal order halts city crews cutting trees on Collingwood Blvd. project

Cutting-on-Collingwood

Richard Marshall, front, and James Hooks, back, of the Toledo Parks and Forestry Division cut down trees along Collingwood Boulevard, north of Bancroft Street, on Jan. 30. Federal officials have ordered a halt to tree cutting — part of a road project along Collingwood — saying that a review of the project’s final plans is incomplete.

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Federal officials have ordered a halt to tree cutting along part of Collingwood Boulevard slated to be rebuilt this year, saying a review of the project’s final plans is incomplete.

A letter dated Monday from Laura S. Leffler, the Federal Highway Administration’s Ohio division administrator, to the Ohio Department of Transportation orders that “all on the ground actions for this project involving work by ODOT, City of Toledo, or utilities shall cease.”

Should any further construction or utility relocation come to the highway administration’s attention before plan review is complete, she wrote, “federal authorization for this project may be rescinded.”

David Dysard, planning administrator with the city Division of Engineering Services, said Tuesday that city Forestry Division crews had actually stopped removing trees along Collingwood early last week “as soon as we were aware that there was even a potential issue.”

But David Neuendorff, a Scottwood Avenue resident among the project’s leading critics, said he protested to city officials immediately when tree cutting was announced the final week of January.

“The city and state screwed up the process. I tried to stop them, and they basically ignored me,” he said Tuesday, calling the letter “about 20 trees too late.”

The Blade counted 17 freshly cut stumps along the east side of Collingwood between Woodruff and Ashland avenues, part of the stretch between Monroe Street and Central Avenue that the city plans to rebuild after first replacing a 140-year-old, rupture-prone water main.

Overall, the city plans to remove 72 trees, mostly honey locusts, along both sides of Collingwood between Islington and Monroe streets.

City officials say the trees, weakened by decades of exposure to de-icing chemicals and vehicle exhaust, would be killed anyway by damage the street’s reconstruction would inflict on their roots.

Neighborhood critics, led by Mr. Neuendorff, have argued that Collingwood’s traffic no longer justifies a four-lane street, and rebuilding it as a narrower neighborhood street could reduce the reconstruction’s effect on the trees’ roots, allowing them to be kept.

While the city has promised to plant 89 replacement trees within a year of the project’s completion, critics say it will take decades for those trees to grow enough to have full canopies over the street.

Mr. Neuendorff has appealed to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, a 23-member federal board that makes recommendations to federal agencies concerning their sponsored projects’ impact on historic sites.

The highway administration’s letter states that it, the advisory council, and the Ohio Historic Preservation Office all are reviewing the Collingwood project.

The letter directs ODOT, as the agency administering the project’s federal funding, to “reissue the final plans to interested people and groups ... for a new, 15-day review period.” Mr. Dysard said Tuesday he was confident all historic-preservation commitments had been included in the plans.

According to a timeline in the highway administration’s letter, the historic-preservation review was concluded Dec. 12; ODOT approved the project’s environmental document Jan. 24 and filed final plans at its headquarters the next day, and the plan review for interested people and groups began Jan. 31.

Mr. Dysard said tree removal on Collingwood’s east side, which began Jan. 29, was preparation for the project to allow AT&T to relocate underground cables, not the project itself.

The Collingwood reconstruction is budgeted to cost $6.2 million, of which $3.28 million is federally funded.

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