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The Why's Guy

Out-of-state trees cost a lot of green

Could even Joyce Kilmer see any good in this?

I doubt the poet (I think that I shall never see, A poem lovely as a tree) would agree with Pinellas Park's decision to spend $89,000 on date palms for a portion of the Park Boulevard median.

For 14 trees. At that price, I hope they tried asking for a 15th for free, just to make it a nice round number.

Well, someone got their money's worth from the state Department of Transportation grant that funded the $100,000 project, but it wasn't the taxpayers of Florida — including the residents of Pinellas Park.

At a time when the state's economy needs all the help it can get, the city decided to buy palms from Arizona. They sent a heap of Florida taxpayers' money across the country rather than help one of the local nurseries growing palms.

Was it more important for the city to match a batch of date palms at the intersection of Park and U.S. 19 than to opt for a different type of tree to help the local economy?

If the native, and inexpensive, cabbage palm isn't good enough for Pinellas Park, there are plenty of upscale options. A check online found a Hillsborough County nursery that listed these prices:

• A 20-foot queen palm for $160.

• A 16-foot Washingtonia palm for $320 ($400 for a 20-footer.)

• A 16-foot Chinese fan palm for $320.

That's three types of trees that many of us use in our own landscaping. But why shouldn't our roads look better than our yards?

Before totaling up the silliness of the project, add in the diesel fuel (at nearly five bucks a gallon) needed to truck the palms across the country. And don't forget the amount of exhaust spewed by the truck.

But Pinellas Park is just one branch on this diseased tree. In this case there is plenty of fertilizer to spread around.

With officials from Tallahassee to Telogia to Tyler complaining about how hard it is to cut spending, why are we spending one dime on projects like this? How many other cities, counties and towns across Florida are spending grant (read: taxpayer) dollars on projects we can do without?

Rising gas prices, huge insurance rate increases and a tanking housing market have left Floridians struggling to make ends meet. If it doesn't get me down the road quicker or safer, we can do without it until the economy improves.

It's time the state shifts the money from these grants to programs we need. The medians can wait until we're flush with cash. Why would anyone want to lay off someone just so we can plant some palms?

The idea is starting to take root.

Hillsborough County is looking for volunteers to maintain some landscaping in an effort to save money. If no one steps up, the county plans to remove some plantings and replace them with sod — and a few palms. (Wonder if they will use a grant?)

Tampa has asked the state to scale back landscaping along parts of Interstate 275 to cut maintenance costs. That will save money up front too.

If communities want to spruce up their roads during tough times, let them partner with local garden and service clubs. Raise the funding locally.

We know politicians like spiffy titles: Petunias for Pinellas Park, Hibiscus for Hillsborough, Trees for Tampa.

Maybe that would get Joyce Kilmer on board.

Times staff writer Kyle Kreiger rants about the serious and silly with one question in mind: Why? Contact him at kreiger@sptimes.com.

Out-of-state trees cost a lot of green 06/23/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 25, 2008 1:32pm]
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