RAP, city officials discuss removal of 75 trees from Willowbranch Park

RAP, city officials discuss removal of 75 trees from Willowbranch Park
Willowbranch Park

Many Riverside and Avondale residents were shocked to learn recently that the city project to restore the Willowbranch Creek canal could mean the removal of 75 trees from Willowbranch Park, which prompted Riverside Avondale Preservation to seek a meeting with city officials. 

The plans for the canal restoration along Willowbranch Creek between St. Johns Avenue and Olga Place were drawn up in 2018. The goal of the project is to shore up existing bulkheads, combat erosion, and decrease the chance of flooding. 

The $831,115 project is in Phase II during which part of the canal near Willow Branch Avenue and Olga Place has been enclosed to allow the installation of a large cement pipe.

RAP Executive Director Warren Jones, several members of the Riverside Arts Market and Jimmy Orth, executive director of the St. Johns Riverkeeper, met with City Council member Randle DeFoor, Public Works Director John Pappas and Robin Smith, chief of engineering and construction on Aug. 27 to discuss several other issues, including: 

The bridges: Three bridges over the creek will be temporarily removed and replaced during the project. The Oak Street bridge is scheduled to be replaced as part of the installation of a bike lane and Jones said it seemed redundant to have work done on that bridge in two projects. 

The bridge work will be done in future phases and there is still time to modify the plan to address RAP’s concerns, Pappas said.

Water quality: RAP is concerned that runoff from the construction site will hurt the water quality in the area and cause more silt to build up in the Yacht Basin, which has never been dredged.

Pappas said Willowbranch Creek is part of a larger drainage field that extends from 5 Points to Avondale and that he will start conversations with local and state entitles like the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Environmental Protection to see what needs to be done for the basin.

Resiliency: The restoration plans were drawn up before resiliency became an issue. RAP wants to know if the project can be modified to bring resiliency, re-channelization and sustainability standards to the project. This, too, can be addressed in future phases of the project, Pappas said.

As for the trees, the city officials said that, too, can be revisited. 

“They are going to see what they can save, especially the hardwoods,” Jones said. “Many of the trees are in the path of the work and have to come out.”

The plan suggests the trees will be replaced with cabbage palms, but Jones said they would prefer shade trees. The city said it will come up with a list of the trees to be replanted. But they said the trees adjacent to the canal cannot have big root systems that could damage the canal infrastructure.

The Olga Street area needs to be rehabilitated with trees and sod, Jones said. 

“They are going to work on the Olga area first and get that put back into shape and then work on the Riverside park of Willowbranch,” Jones said.

The city worked on the Riverside and Olga areas first because the canal was most deteriorated at those areas, Jones said.

“There is no schedule for starting the next phases, which allows us an opportunity to work together on how we can reimagine that work to take into consideration what it might look like, especially around the park,” Jones said.

After the city agencies have revisited the plan, city officials will have another meeting with RAP, Jones said. 

Council member DeFoor also is looking at convening a public meeting about the issue. 

“It was a very good start to a community conversation,” Jones said.

By Lilla Ross
Resident community News

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