CLEARWATER — Mary Rogero could hear the cracking of the live oaks in Coachman Ridge Park from her living room Monday morning, so she drove over to investigate for herself.
What used to be lush woods behind the playground, tennis and basketball courts was now unrecognizable: 300 trees were razed to the ground, yellow bulldozers dragging trunks and foliage across the dirt.
The sight was enough to make her run up to a bulldozer driver, she said, and cry out: "What are you doing?!"
The city is razing 300 of the park's trees to build two stormwater mitigation ponds that will collect runoff from the upcoming $17.8 million solid waste transfer station replacement a half-mile away. To make up for the loss at the park, and additional trees removed at the solid waste site, the city is planting 1,465 red maple, black gum, bald cyprus and pop ash trees in the park along with a boardwalk and enhanced nature trail.
The park's construction is expected to be completed in November, with the Solid Waste building wrapping up in 2019. In the meantime, city landscape architect Catherine Corcoran said she knows the process is jarring.
"I completely understand this intense part of construction is painful to look at, and it can be shocking when people see trees being taken out," Corcoran said. "This provides improved stormwater and wetland areas necessary for upgrades to the city's infrastructure."
All of the trash the city collects from streets and homes gets taken to a dump site on Old Coachman Road before being hauled to Pinellas County Solid Waste in St. Petersburg. This middle ground, a 47-year-old transfer station building, saves the city about $3 million a year because it enables seven tractor trailers to haul 400 tons of trash per day to St. Petersburg rather than having 60 to 70 trucks make the trip, according to Solid Waste director Earl Gloster.
But the aging building is running on outdated technology, where garbage is dumped into a pit before hydraulic rams push it into the tractor trailers. The new station will have a top-loaded design driven by gravity so the trailers can pull right under the pits to collect the trash.
Construction of the bigger facility, however, will mean more pavement and less ground to absorb stormwater, Corcoran said. Building the stormwater ponds at nearby Coachman Ridge Park is not only required by the state Department of Environmental Protection but "environmentally responsible," she said.
City code requires the condition of trees to be evaluated before removal to determine how many must be replaced. Only those rated three or above on a zero-to-five point scale must be replaced inch-per-inch on site or have contributions made to the city's tree fund for planting elsewhere, Corcoran said.
The majority of Coachman Ridge Park's trees were rated below a three, she said, requiring only a portion to be replaced. But the city will supply 1,465 trees and additional shrubbery.
"The quality, diversity and quantity of the trees at Coachman Ridge Park will increase greatly, and this project is planting more trees than was required for permitting purposes," Corcoran said.
Angela Hunt, who works from home as a novelist and can see the bulldozers in the park from her office, said the deforestation is still concerning.
When she applied for a city permit to place a storage shed in her yard in Coachman Hill Estates, there was a two-week public comment period on the matter.
The City Council approved the transfer station project in November during its regular meeting that allows for public comment. But Hunt said she wished residents had been alerted specifically to the tree removal portion. Had she known, she would have spoken up, she said.
"I understand the need for progress and that sort of thing, I just hate to see all those beautiful, old trees go down," Hunt said.
Contact Tracey McManus at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.