I am writing you to express my concern about the recent tree pruning along the 19/23, future I-26 corridor and the clear-cutting along the 25/70 corridor north of Weaverville.
I travel both these corridors on a daily basis and am wondering who or what is responsible for this devastation? Is this part of a planned enhancement? What kind of message are we sending to folks visiting our mountains? Not only do I have to bear these unsightly practices, but there are thousands more traveling these corridors daily due to the I-40 [detour]. It is obvious that those doing the cutting are not very well trained in proper pruning techniques, nor are they concerned about erosion which will unfortunately make its way to the French Broad River. Where are the best-management practices? The on-site arborists?
Is there any oversight here, or is the N.C. DOT just allowed to do as they please? Where are the "enhancement programs" that DOT touts? Where are the native plantings? Where is the wildlife enhancement? The rights of way that the state maintains/clear-cuts functioned as a forest-edge ecosystem, likely sustaining many species of migratory bird populations.
I understand we don't want a repeat of fallen trees on our roadways, but it does not make much sense to cut a healthy 20-foot tree that's 100 feet up an 80-percent slope that is not only holding the slope intact but also slowing rainfall. The DOT continues to pour salt into the wound by trucking the debris to be ground up into mulch; why not chip on-site and use [the mulch] to spread over the now highly erodible soil? These trees are small and can be handled by chippers.
I surely hope this is not how my tax dollars are being used or, worse yet, that it's a "recovery project."
— W. Keith Aitken
Editor's note: Aitken also sent his letter to the state Department of Transportation, which has provided this response:
Your e-mail to the N.C. DOT was referred to me for response. I checked with the maintenance office for DOT Division 13, which includes the area you expressed concerns about. I was told the tree trimming and debris removal along US 19/23-future I-26 corridor and along US 25/70 is occurring largely due to the snowstorm of last December, which broke and damaged hundreds, if not thousands, of trees along many routes. The area was so hard hit it was declared a federal disaster area by President Obama, making federal disaster aid available for the state to supplement state and local recovery efforts. Crews are still cleaning up the debris left by the storm, even though it was more than two months ago.
The US 25/70 area was particularly hard hit with large sections of small pine trees being broken and uprooted. Broken and damaged trees are being removed, and the small hardwoods in these areas are being retained where possible. All disturbed areas will be seeded, ideally with native species, to provide vegetative cover and prevent erosion.
In the US 19/23-future I-26 corridor, downed trees are being removed from the right of way, and other trees that are within the clearing limits ,as outlined in our maintenance policies, are also being trimmed or removed. These clearing limits were established to ensure the safety of the motorist, to prevent obstructions of signs and provide the maximum visibility to the motorists using the roadway.
N.C. DOT communications officer