Cook County says Niles axed more trees than agreed at Bunker Hill forest preserve for a planned sidewalk
by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
The Village of Niles was reportedly supposed to chop down eight trees on the south side of Touhy Avenue in the Bunker Hill forest preserve under a 2019 agreement to construct a sidewalk between Harts Road and Caldwell Avenue as part of the North Branch Trail extension project.
It cut down 37.
“On January 12, the Village of Niles removed trees on the edge of the Bunker Hill preserve as part of an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with the Forest Preserves to install a new sidewalk on the south side of Touhy Avenue. A total of 37 trees were taken down, which did exceed the specific parameters of what was agreed to according to the IGA,” Forest Preserves of Cook County director of communications Carl Vogel said.
“We are working with the village to determine the impacts and any possible mitigation about that,” Vogel said.
Village of Niles spokesman Mitch Johnson said that while 8 trees were estimated for removal, the IGA did not restrict the removal to that exact number and rather allowed for tree removal within the footprint of the trail.
Johnson said that the county’s estimates about the number of trees that were cut down were reasonable when including trees inside and outside the project area as well as adjacent public right-of-way that isn’t part of the IGA.
“It does appear that village tree crews inadvertently went beyond the designated project limits in their attempts to be proactive in removing trees from the project area,” Johnson said.
Johnson said that the agreement was 5-years-old and an underestimate in 2018 by a third-party engineering firm on the project also contributed to the discrepancy in expected numbers.
The 2019 agreement between the village and the forest preserve district was part of a series of agreements for the project to extend the North Branch Trail and install crosswalks at Caldwell and Touhy. Work on the trail is expected to begin in the spring.
The trail will be constructed along an easement corridor for a sewer line that was installed in 1957. The cost of the project was to be split, with 80 percent coming from federal funds and 20 percent coming from local funding. At the time, the projected cost was estimated at about $500,000.
“Eight (8) trees on Forest Preserves land are proposed to be removed. Niles will pay a tree mitigation fee of $38,969.89,” the 2019 agreement states. “Niles has funding for the design and construction of the trail segments.” It’s unclear if the village will be required to pay an increased tree mitigation fee based on the number of trees that were eventually removed.
Vogel said that the final full count of trees removed along Touhy in January may include ones not covered by the Forest Preserves property due to an easement, the right-of-way or other factors such as changes to the conditions of some trees since 2019.
“We’re working with the village of Niles to determine the final count and any next steps,” Vogel said.
Vogel said last year that no trees would be removed as part of the extension of the trail because of its proposed location. However, he said that this year some trees may be removed as part of the trail extension work.
“We are continuing to work with the village on other projects for this IGA, including a new sidewalk on the north side of Touhy and a new trail spur connecting from the intersection at Touhy and Caldwell to the North Branch Trail. Construction for that spur will also include some tree removal, which is expected to start later this spring,” Vogel said.