COURTESY OF THE OUTDOOR CIRCLE
Maintenance workers for the Hawaii Convention Center illegally trimmed about a half dozen banyan trees without obtaining a permit from the city. A city official described the trees as being "mutilated."
Pruners went too far with Ala Wai trees
I walk most mornings along the Ala Wai Canal next to the Hawaii Convention Center for exercise. It is nice and cool in the mornings and a very nice area. Sometimes I like to sit on the benches and watch the paddlers go by or just watch the canal water flow. It is very peaceful and relaxing. But when I went on my usual walk, I was shocked to see all the beautiful ironwood trees next to the Convention Center that had provided shade had been cut back. Can you find out why those beautiful trees were cut?
Answer: There are no ironwoods along the Ala Wai Promenade.
What is there instead are a lot of leafy Ficus benjamina trees -- more commonly known as banyans -- that are on the city's Exceptional Trees List. Among other things, being on that list means nothing can be done to them without a permit.
It turns out there were two types of tree trimming going on along the promenade earlier this month -- routine maintenance approved by the city; and unauthorized and illegal pruning of trees bordering the Convention Center, on city property, done by the center's maintenance workers.
COURTESY OF THE OUTDOOR CIRCLE
Maintenance workers illegally "trimmed" about a half dozen Ficus benjamina (banyan) trees, seen here from the Convention Center balcony, without obtaining a city permit.
The Outdoor Circle's Bob Loy, director of environmental programs, characterized the trees cut by the Convention Center workers as "badly butchered." A city official described them as "mutilated."
At casual glance from across the Ala Wai and even along the promenade, the half dozen or so trees appear healthy. But looking down on them from the Convention Center reveals a very different and stark view.
Basically, the trees "were cut in half," Loy said.
Joe Davis, general manager of the SMG-managed Convention Center, said Friday that he is working with the city Department of Parks and Recreation's Division of Urban Forestry to obtain an arborist to review the condition of the trees.
He said he had apologized to the city and the Outdoor Circle for the incident, which he blamed on "overzealous" landscape workers and misguided direction from "some management."
"It was clearly not our responsibility, and clearly not our business, to touch those trees," he said.
To make amends, Davis said he's pledged "full and complete cooperation" with the city to restore the health of the trees, including payment of costs, and to make sure they are well maintained in the future.
"We worked hard over the years to be a good neighbor and community member, and it is unfortunate this has happened," he said.
The unauthorized pruning came to light after Mary Steiner, president of the Outdoor Circle, and some city officials were attending an event at the Convention Center, Loy said.
An official with the Urban Forestry Division said the pruning had been witnessed by members of the Arborist Advisory Committee. Permits to cut or trim trees on the Exceptional Trees list are issued by the committee.
Loy said the Outdoor Circle appreciates the Convention Center's willingness to take full responsibility and offering to "fully pay for the long-term process that will be needed if the trees are ever to be returned to the outstanding condition they were in before this incident."
Because of the extensive cuts made to the trees, it may take three to four pruning cycles spanning several years before the trees are restored to their original healthy state, he said.
"We hope this will be a lesson to anyone in Hawaii who might contemplate taking this type of action on trees that they need to make sure, first, that (the trees are) on their own property, which these were not, and secondly, whether they're protected by law," Loy said.
For its part, the Division of Urban Forestry is looking into the situation to determine the next course of action, an official with the division said Friday.
The official emphasized that a contractor working for the division had a permit to prune "all the banyans along the Ala Wai Promenade." Such routine maintenance is done once a year and sometimes will prompt "a spate of complaints."
The trees tend to look their worst immediately after the trims, the official said, but added they grow back fairly quickly.
The city contractor "did not overprune" the banyan trees that it worked on, the official said.
Trees on the Exceptional Trees list were selected for their "historical or cultural value, age, rarity, location, size, aesthetic quality or endemic status."
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