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Environmental Citizens Committee plans new projects for Madison Heights

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published May 31, 2019


MADISON HEIGHTS — The Madison Heights Environmental Citizens Committee, or ECC, originally formed in 1989, but had been inactive for many years. That all changed last year when it was revived, and since then the ECC has held six quarterly meetings, the most recent of which took place May 20 at Madison Heights City Hall. The next one is planned for September.

The committee is led by six residents, as well as a City Council representative, and at the May 20 meeting the group discussed a number of initiatives on which it will work next — including plans to restore the city’s tree canopy this fall and next spring.

Greening the skyline
To this end, the City Council previously adopted a tree replacement program several years ago to replace any right-of-way trees that were removed during road or sewer construction. But it didn’t go far enough, according to Roslyn Grafstein, a council member and the ECC’s council representative.

“No funding or plans were put into place for trees that had been previously removed,” she said. “There are some streets and subdivisions in the city that are in desperate need of trees. The one I hear about most is Moulin (Avenue). A couple years ago, I walked out of (Red Oaks) Nature Center with a friend, and she asked me what I saw when I looked down Moulin (Avenue). ‘Nothing,’ I replied. ‘There are no trees.’ Their absence was glaringly obvious.”

The ECC is looking to plant trees at two different times: in the fall and again in the spring. The spring planting will coincide with Earth Day in April 2020.

“Once we have more details, we will be asking residents to let us know if they would like a tree for their right of way,” Grafstein said. “Depending on demand and the number and variety of trees available, (the Madison Heights Department of Public Services) will determine where it makes the most sense to plant the trees.”

The Madison Heights Men’s Club and several Scout troops have offered to help with planting, she said, and when the time comes, additional help will be sought from community volunteers.

“We will also provide residents with tree care information, and the trees would only be planted when there is both a request from the owner and a willingness from them to care for the tree,” Grafstein said.

For the fall program, the ECC is considering a partnership with Home Depot and other local businesses to formalize their donation of leftover trees to be planted at the end of the season.

“It could be two trees, or it could be 20 trees or more, depending on how many stores participate,” Grafstein said. “We may ask for a small donation to help fund the spring program.”

For the spring program, the ECC is hoping to secure a $1,500 grant from the city to be matched by ReLeaf Michigan so that the ECC can purchase trees and educate residents on upkeep. Grafstein previously requested that city staff reach out to ReLeaf Michigan to advise on rebuilding the city’s lost tree stock.

“This is the first year that the city is in a position with our budget to offer small grants to the quality-of-life boards,” she said. “I am confident we will receive the $1,500 we need.”

Growing quality of life
Along with the right-of-way tree replacement program from several years back, there have also been other tree-planting efforts, including Home Depot’s donation of leftover trees in the fall of 2017, one of which was planted across the street from Monroe Park, and another on Moulin Avenue. And during Earth Day 2017, the DPS planted trees at Ambassador Park.

The ECC believes that there is a direct link between the amount of tree coverage in the area and the city’s overall quality of life for residents and visitors alike.

“Trees are important for the health and well-being of all our residents, and for the community. Besides the basic science that trees take in carbon dioxide and generate oxygen for us to breathe, they also offer many other health, environmental and economic benefits,” Grafstein said.

“Studies show that just being around trees improves mental and physical health,” she added. “Trees help filter water runoff and can reduce noise pollution and traffic speed, and also lower crime. They promote walkability and bring new customers into businesses. Trees also foster more neighborhood interactions and increase property values. Homes shaded by trees have lower cooling costs in summer, and in the winter, trees can act as a windbreak to lower heating expenses.

“Most people I have spoke to are upset with our lack of trees in the city, but no one has an easy or inexpensive solution,” Grafstein noted. “One runner I spoke with was frustrated because he can’t just leave his house and go for a shaded run now that the trees are gone. Residents I have spoken with see that trees are important for walkability and that they add to the aesthetics of the area, and they would like to see more trees in the city.

“I welcome suggestions from our residents on how else we can fund the replacement trees, or any other long-term solutions they may have.”

Other initiatives
While it’s a priority, the ECC hasn’t been focused solely on replenishing the city’s tree stock.

Other recent initiatives have included educating the public on the benefits of sound recycling practices and reducing the use of single-use plastics, since disposable plastics contribute to much of the litter that pollutes the environment.

The committee also advised on contract negotiations with the city’s waste hauler, Green for Life Environmental, which led to the availability of larger recycling toters for those who want them.

Helping residents to understand what items are accepted for recycling has been another initiative for the ECC, with the committee circulating information online, as well as in the brochure for Parks and Recreation and in the fall water bill.

The ECC is also planning a series of educational videos that will be available at the city’s website and Facebook page, aiming for a new video every month or two. One of these videos will focus on the environmental risk posed by Styrofoam use; another will promote reusable water bottles being sold by the Arts Board to help support its projects while cutting down on disposable plastics; and another video will focus on the tree-planting programs.

The ECC was also planning the installation of new eco-friendly landscaping at Fire Station No. 1, located at 31313 Brush St., to take place June 3, after press time. The plan was for this event to include an educational program for residents funded by the MSU Extension, part of the Michigan State University College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

The landscaping itself is eco-friendly in that it better manages stormwater runoff to protect local water resources, and also features elements that attract birds and insects that aid in pollination.

Mayor Pro Tem Mark Bliss, the ECC’s council alternate, said he is proud of how quickly the new ECC has made progress addressing the city’s environmental needs.

“The revamped ECC is motivated and ready to make a big impact in the community,” he said. “These are important issues that affect our residents, and I’m thankful for the volunteers who serve on this board and who have worked hard to help us solve these challenges.”