Lakeview neighbors are thrilled after the water department announced a new plan to restore the water main without removing mature trees

LAKEVIEW — Dozens of trees that have been flagged for removal so the city can replace a century-old water main will be spared after authorities opted to move the pipes away from greenery.

Most of the threatened trees are along the east side of Paulina Street between Belmont and Lincoln avenues, with 19 trees originally reported along the road for removal, said Anthony Falada, general superintendent of the construction for the Department of Water Management, during a December Community Meeting. Ten other trees along School and Melrose streets were also at risk of being felled.

The trees are above pipes that were installed in 1889 and need to be replaced to avoid ruptures or leaks, officials said.

But after months of pressure from neighbors and local Ald. Matt Martin (47th) to find a way to restore the water main without disturbing the trees, the Department of Water Management has announced a plan that will save most – if not all – of the greenery.

Rather than digging up old pipes to lay new ones, the department will relocate the water main to the west side of Paulina, far enough from the sidewalk to minimize its effect on trees, Martin said.

“At this time, they are not aware of any trees that would be negatively affected by work on Paulina,” Martin said. “Of course, that could change once they open the street and see exactly where the root systems are.”

For the remaining 10 trees along School and Melrose streets, the Department of Water Management has prepared a request for proposals for a contractor who can line the sewer lines over the drains, Martin said. Pipe liner is a “no-dig” process for repairing and replacing sewer lines that involves inserting a resin-coated pipe liner tube into existing pipes to repair breaks or cracks.

“I am very proud of how our community of Lakeview has come together and the incredible organization of neighbors to save our trees,” Martin said in an email update to his constituents. “It was invigorating to fight alongside you to keep Lakeview and the 47th Ward green.”

Credit: Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago
Neighbors are mobilizing to prevent the felling of trees.

Neighbors who have been organizing for months to save trees from destruction celebrated the announcement and their community’s ability to come together to influence the water utility’s plans.

“We are very happy,” neighbor Rosemary Feit said. “I think we also feel justified in terms of skepticism about what we heard from the Department of Water Management in mid-December.”

At the December community meeting, Falada said the pipes could not be moved due to other utilities under street and Environmental Protection Agency regulations. But work to replace the pipes, which was scheduled to begin in mid-January, was delayed as the department worked with the city’s Underground Coordination Office to determine if the pipes could actually be moved.

Neighbor Ilya Soussa said she hopes the water department’s new plan to relocate the pipes will set a precedent that the water management department should explore all options for restoring the pipes before deciding to cut down trees.

“Hopefully this will establish a new way of thinking for these departments so that their first thought is not to come in with bulldozers,” Soussa said. “Hopefully it doesn’t take hundreds of emails to city officials and multiple news reports to affect this change in the future.”

Work to relocate the Paulina Street water main will begin on Monday, with road sawing tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, Martin said.

During construction, the area will see temporary road closures during working hours, which run from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Falada said in December.

Water service interruptions will also be required for the Water Department to make main connections and implement water service transfers, Falada said. Interruptions will last four to six hours for connections and one to two hours for service transfers, but neighbors will be notified in advance.

“It means the world will see water service continue while considering trees,” Feit said. “We did this because we feel so passionate about what trees bring to our neighborhood, and why we are residents here has a lot to do with these beautiful leaf-lined blocks. It is also a victory for the environment.

Representatives from the Department of Water Management did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but spokeswoman Megan Vidis previously said the agency was “committed to minimizing possible environmental impact to the area. surrounding area when construction is necessary”.

“This is especially true when it comes to decisions about ancient trees where we explore all available options to prevent their removal,” Vidis said.

Credit: Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago
The Chicago Water Department said trees will be removed on a case-by-case basis depending on their proximity to the water main.

Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.

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