Tonawanda News — An uncanny feeling descended over Webster Street during the last week as North Tonawanda launched into a $570,000 project to ebb the flow of pollution into the Erie Canal and redo its streetscape.
Dozens of Locust trees in place along the street for years were felled as city employees began the initial stages of a two-month endeavor, which will run along two blocks between Sweeney and Goundry streets.
When it is complete, officials say, a new look will further add to what has in many ways become the heart of the city’s identity, development along Webster Street.
Twenty-six stormwater treatment systems will be installed in the coming months, with younger and less intrusive trees to follow. Many of the flower beds put in place roughly 20 years ago that are now falling apart will be removed.
Michael Zimmerman, of the Lumber City Development Corp., the entity responsible for bringing in the state-funded initiative, said when the project is complete Webster Street will have a more functional, urban feel, one that will better emphasize recent progress.
“It will be a little ugly until it’s finished,” he said. “But there will be trees back on Webster and we think it will be an aesthetic improvement.”
But along with the functionality will come drastic reductions in gasoline, oil, phosphorus and nitrogen pollution, which for decades has freely flowed into the city’s storm water system and directly out to the canal.
Engineer reports tied to the rain gardens installation project state the bio-retention systems will reduce stormwater runoff by 58 percent and reduced up to 95 percent of “solid” pollutants. The report also shows that Webster Street annually accrues an average of 40.54 inches on precipitation equaling out to 2.4 million gallons of runoff.
While City Hall was flooded with calls from residents shocked by the lack of trees, business owners along the thoroughfare have largely backed the initiative, Zimmerman said. LCDC and city officials met with business owners three times in the last year to include them in the project’s planning.
The trees were of particular concern because of their influence on the character of the neighborhood, though at 30 feet tall, and growing, they were difficult to maintain, with leaves scattered along the street in the fall and roots beginning to damage concrete walkways year-round. The new trees, which have yet to be selected, will not reach more than 15 or 20 feet at full maturity, Zimmerman said.
Jay Soemann, president of the Downtown Merchants Association of North Tonawanda, said while he was sad to see the trees go, with a “sterile and stark looking” street left behind, it will all be worth it in the end.
“They had gotten out of control,” he said. “Webster Street never had trees until the 1970s and over the the years they got overgrown. We’re very lucky to have this project come to Webster. It will give us a little more curb appeal, literally.”
Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.