The Tennessee Department of Transportation acknowledges cutting down dozens of trees — some dedicated to the deceased — that an East Nashville neighborhood group planted to try to beautify a downtrodden area near the interstate.
Three years ago, the neighborhood organization Rediscover East! paid $10,000 to plant trees on the state’s right-of-way property on Woodland Street near the onramp to Interstates 24 and 65. The state granted them permission.
But last Friday, bulldozers showed up to raze the grassy area, and workers tore down the trees –– all 60 of them in the quadrant.
“My phone started ringing and emails started flying through,” said Carol Norton, chair of the transportation and public spaces committee for Rediscover East!. “There were quite a few concerned folks.”
TDOT officials say workers were using the space to store equipment for ongoing repairs on the interstate’s bridge.
“The state-owned space where the trees stood was needed to stage large construction equipment for the upcoming repair project to replace two bridge decks on I-24 over Main Street and over Woodland Street,” TDOT spokeswoman Deanna Lambert said in a statement.
“Anytime TDOT allows such plantings on our right of way, it comes with the understanding that we may need the space for a highway project,” she added.
TDOT officials say they intend to pay for the replanting of new trees.
“We definitely plan to replace these trees after construction later this summer,” said Toks Omishakin, TDOT’s assistant commissioner and chief bureau of environment and planning. “We will replace the trees with what the community wants and that also meets TDOT standards.”
Metro Councilman Peter Westerholm, who represents the area, said he’s “reluctant to point the finger at anyone,” characterizing the destruction of the trees as an “honest mistake.”
“No one in a variety of levels knew the significance or history of those trees,” Westerholm said. “It was nothing malicious or intentional on their behalf. By the time we were able to get in touch with all the people to explain to them the importance of the trees, unfortunately it was too late.”
Comforted by TDOT’s willingness to foot the bill for new trees, neighbors appear to be putting the episode aside.
“It’s all going to work out,” Norton said. “TDOT is going to pay for it.”