Building a Better Holyoke, One Tree at a Time Text Size

Earlier this month, the Massachusetts Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs announced that Holyoke was named as one of three cities to receive funding from a $5 million grant to plant trees throughout our City.   Since then, constituents have contacted my office eager to learn more about this funding and what its availability will mean for Holyoke, and I’d like to use this week’s blog as an opportunity to provide that information.


The benefits of adding trees to our community extend far beyond making our City more beautiful.  An abundance of trees can go a long way in reducing energy use, preventing storm water pollution and cleaning the air we breathe, which is why so many major American cities, including Boston and New York City, have implemented tree planting programs as a way of fighting climate change impacts and storm water infiltration.  This funding will allow Holyoke to implement its own tree planting program this spring.


According to Secretary Rick Sullivan’s office, the Commonwealth’s 26 Gateway Cities have lower tree canopy than other areas of the state because of their urban character and history of heavy industry and manufacturing.  Holyoke was selected because of its low tree canopy cover, high population density, high wind levels and older, poorly-insulated housing.


One tree can save between $50 and $150 on a single family’s energy bills in any given year. In addition, we’re always looking for ways to manage and reduce storm water costs; a single tree can treat between 100 and 700 gallons of storm water, depending on the size.  Taking these facts into consideration, the benefits really begin to add up when you consider adding thousands of trees in a short period of time. 


So, we’ve got thousands of trees to plant in the next year.  Where will we plant them, and who’s going to do the work?   Commercial Street and Nick Cosmos Way are in the heart of the section of the City with the least amount of urban tree canopy (5%, compared to some places with 20-50%) and the highest number of available planting sites – so we decided to focus on replacing all of the empty tree wells on these streets as a good first step.  With the support of Secretary Sullivan, DCR/EoEEA has agreed to pay for a mature tree to be planted in each tree well along these streets. This is great news, considering each of the trees would normally cost $300 a piece.


The timeline of this project has already begun, and we’ve placed an order for 80 street trees for the spring season and that will be filled by the end of May. Consider this a “downpayment” on reforesting our urban core, with more planting to continue into the fall. The main reason DCR is funding these trees is to encourage energy efficiency in urban environments, further complementing the efforts of our Urban Renewal Plan, as many of the streets and planting sites that we’ve identified are located along the priority corridors established in the URP.


As Mayor, I’m fortunate to have dedicated City employees like Conservation Commission Director Andrew Smith, and DPW Superintendent Bill Fuqua, who are working hard to establish a community partnership that will manage the installation and care for each tree that we plant.  We are even more fortunate to have great community partners who are willing to become involved in the planting and caring of these streets. Mountain View Landscaping, Holyoke Gas and Electric, United Water and Nuestras Raices are offering their services, which is an invaluable donation to the City of Holyoke. The cost of planting a street tree is not cheap and the more people, businesses and departments we have working together, the greater the shared costs are for everyone in the end.


The great news is that we are just getting started and we have approximately $1.33 million set aside by the Commonwealth to buy trees for Holyoke, and we are forming a partnership of public and private entities to get the ball rolling.  Long-term, the City and DCR are going to work to plant 5,000 high-value trees on public and private property by next year. It sounds like an ambitious goal, but with the collaboration of our community behind this plan, we can accomplish great things, with benefits that will increase each year as the tree canopy matures. 


So, in the end, what’s happening here is pretty great. As we beautify and transform the look and feel of our downtown, we’ll make our streets cooler, our residential property owners more comfortable, our rivers and streams cleaner and we’ll form connections that will bring our community together around something that will not costs us as much as it would if we decided to plant $1.3 million worth of trees on our own.


I’d be remiss if I did not acknowledge my sincere appreciation of Secretary Sullivan and Governor Patrick as they continue to support us in these efforts, and I can’t wait to see legacy that this project will have on future generations to come.

Posted on May 1, 2014 by