Protecting Trees a Priority for City While Installing Local Sewer Systems

There are two things La Cañadans take very seriously; sewers and trees. While the first subject is one of debate and oftentimes headache, the latter is one of community pride.

For the past decade various sections of the city at various times have dealt with the construction of new sewers. These projects are borne of necessity, however many times the road to improvement is marred with trials and tribulations for local residents. Road closures, dust, dirt and noise fill neighborhoods as construction equipment and workers fill the streets.

But in one neighborhood in La Cañada, just off Palm Drive, residents and construction workers are co-existing in an unusual harmony this month.

"These guys have done a great job," said Jon Moldafsky, a La Cañada resident who serves on the Parks and Recreation Commission.

As Moldafsky and his family returned home from a recent trip they were greeted by a smiling John Benko, operator excavator for Ken Thompson, Inc., the company that has been contracted to construct the sewer system in District 3A/3B.

Moldafsky said that the construction crews have gone out of their way to accommodate his family. Although he had to park several houses away from his home and drag his suitcase down a dusty street and driveway, he was not deterred by the inconvenience.

In fact, on the Monday afternoon he and his family returned home, Benko stopped his crew from working to help the family with their suitcases. Moldafsky's driveway was full of dirt, two excavators and one very deep hole.

In addition to working with the neighbors, Ken Thompson Inc. has taken precautions to care for the life of the trees that line local neighborhoods.

"That was a city priority," said Jackson Dodd, management aide in public works. Dodd said that it was always important to the city to work with a company that would understand the importance of the city's tree ordinance.

There are five types of trees that are protected by law in this city: oaks, deodar cedars, sycamores, California pepper and Chinese elms. None of these trees can be removed without a city permit. The construction company goes to great lengths to make certain the trees are well protected during the sewer installation process.

"Before we start to dig, we have an arborist come to the site and [document] the root area," Benko said. At that point the workers then dig under the root system to avoid any damage, he said.

"As we go through and dig I think of it as high powered lines," Benko said of how cautious he is while digging.

Residents and construction workers alike understand there is tension with the closed roads and disruption to driveway and near trees however they are trying to make the process run as smoothly as possible.

There have been some areas of the city that this harmony has not been so evident. In fact, some city officials cannot speak on the subject of Ken Thompson Inc., due to pending litigation. In September 2006 the company filed a $2.4 million breach of contract claim against the city in connection with Sewer District 2. However the company and the city have worked together in other districts without incident.

In a recent meeting of the La Cañada Flintridge Leisure Club, Mayor Dave Spence related a story of a resident who had become very frustrated with the construction and closed roads.

"He called me and said his wife was waiting for a dishwasher to be delivered but the road was closed," Spence said. The truck had attempted a delivery several times and it was getting close to the Fourth of July weekend. The caller said his wife was very angry. "We didn't want an angry wife so I called the construction [company]," he said.

The workers made certain that the truck had a free path to deliver the dishwasher.

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