St Petersburg To Become Even More Beautiful

Dated: April 22 2016

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St. Pete's former mayor wants $500,000 in BP money for trees 

Thursday, April 21, 2016 10:54am 

ST.PETERSBURG — Former mayor David Fischer planted more than 10,000 trees in the late 1990s while in office.Since getting tapped last year by Mayor Rick Kriseman as the city's volunteer "tree czar," Fischer, 82, has found a second life as a modern day Johnny Appleseed. He's now pushing an ambitious tree­planting program that would use $500,000 of BP settlement funds to plant up to 550 trees spread across all eight city council districts. The money would also create a tree inventory, assess the city's canopy and provide enough money to properly plant and maintain high­quality trees, like live oaks, that are native and drought­resistant. 

The city's older neighborhoods that have alleys, like the Old Northeast, have fantastic tree canopies. But neighborhoods developed after World War II often have utility lines running in front of the houses, complicating tree planting.And cultural ideas about trees were different in the 1950s and '60s, too, he said. People would move to sunny St. Petersburg and plant a palm tree in the front yard and an orange tree in the back yard, then send a postcard back to the frigid North to show off their tropical home, said Fischer, who served as the city's first strong mayor from 1991 to 2001. But trees just aren't for aesthetics. They've become a part of the city's environmental plan. Studies have shown an extensive canopy can save energy in the hot months and help clean dirty air. Currently, only about 30 percent of the city is canopied, Fischer estimated. "Trees are the ultimate multi­taskers. They accomplish so many aspects of a climate action plan," said Cathy Harrelson, president of the Sustainability Council, which supports the initiative. 

Last week, though, the City Council, pumped the brakes on the program, asking city staff to push back a potentialCommenting Guidelinesvote on the funding until at least May while the council decides on whether it wants to spend BP dollars on a bike share program that has been stalled for months. Several council members said at an agenda review session they wanted to know the extent of the city's sewer problems — laid bare by last summer's 16.5 million gallons of spills and dumps — before allocating any of the city's $6.5 million BP settlement funds. 

Sharon Wright, the city's sustainability manager, said sewers and trees have one thing in common: both need attention. "Just like we think of pipes and sewer as infrastructure and something we need to manage, trees are also an asset we need to manage," she said. Fischer has driven around the city identifying areas in each council district that showed promise for planting trees. He's talked to each council member and says he found them enthusiastic about the idea. In his pitch, Fischer points to the saplings that his administration planted in the 1990s, now robust and mature, that line First Avenues N and S, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street and portions of Allendale."It's a tremendous legacy to leave," Fischer said. 

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727) 893­8459. Follow@CharlieFrago

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