When it comes to trees, there's no stronger advocate on Oahu than The Outdoor Circle.
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So it may come as a surprise the nonprofit group is giving the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation high marks for tree preservation, even though the city's rail project will force the removal of up to 900 trees along the 20-mile route.
"The administration has done an excellent job working with their contractors and sub-contractors to ensure that the trees that they transplant are surviving the process," said Marti Townsend, the Outdoor Circle's executive director. "It's both an effort of trying to identify those trees that could handle the stress of being transplanted and then for those that can't, modifying the guideway so that you can work around the trees."
According to a report filed last month with the City Council, HART plans on moving about 500 trees along the rail line from Aloha Stadium to Middle Street. The first phase of the project has already seen 300 trees removed, but of those, 250 have been transplanted elsewhere with a 90 percent survival rate.
"The key thing to all of that was we had really good maintenance afterwards that took care of watering and maintaining them and that's the key to the transplants," said Steve Nimz, an arborist with more than 40 years of experience hired by HART to oversee its tree program.
All told, The Outdoor Circle expects about 900 trees to be removed along the elevated rail line, which stretches from East Kapolei to the Ala Moana Shopping Center.
But some trees deemed too valuable to lose have resulted in HART actually moving rail columns by a few feet. A large monkey pod tree on Kamehameha Highway across from Sam's Club is one example of rail engineers tweaking their design plans to save a tree.
"So, that was a good example of their flexibility with rail," said Nimz. "I think initially the rail went right over the top of that tree."
However HART has also faced criticism for some of its construction activities. In May of 2011 the transit authority was chastised by The Outdoor Circle after contractors placed a heavy layer of rock and two portable bathrooms on the base of a tree located on Farrington Highway in Waipahu.
"These were just examples of how when you don't take the time and effort to implement the project well, you actually cause much more harm than originally thought," said Townsend. "The tree treatment plan that HART has implemented since then thanks to the advocacy of the Outdoor Circle has really helped to minimize the loss of trees onto the project."
Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi is also satisfied with HART's tree-saving plan, noting the transit authority has followed a resolution she authored three years ago that requires an updated report every six months.
"The reporting has been consistent and we're sorry to lose trees, but the replanting effort has been really good," she said.
As part of its $5.3 billion construction budget, HART will plant about 600 completely new trees along the guideway and at 21 transit stations. The Outdoor Circle hopes the new trees will result in a greener Oahu.
"We hope to see a net benefit in terms of the tree canopy when the rail project is complete," said Townsend. "We really do need to minimize the negative effects of an urban environment."