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Marco Island could be home to thousands of new trees in the next decade

DEMOCRACY WATCH: Marco City Council
Samantha Roesler
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Earlier this month the Beautification Advisory Committee looked for endorsement from Marco Island City Council to assess the current state of trees. The committee also outlined details of the10,000 Trees in 10 Years Project.

Marco Island’s tree density is only at 10 percent, the lowest in the Naples area, as the average U.S. city has a density of almost 30 percent. In response to this, the island’s Beautification Advisory Committee (BAC) is starting a project to bring more trees to the island: 10,000 Trees in 10 Years.

Earlier this month, the BAC looked for endorsement from the Marco Island City Council to assess the current state of trees on the island and to outline details of the overall plan.
The BAC presentation to council estimated the cost of each tree at $250 to $600.

BAC member David Leaser said the committee has gotten the go-ahead from the council, and the committee is exploring the costs, benefits and funding options. Leaser stated in a message to WGCU News that funding options could include grants and private philanthropic sources.

The goal of planting 10,000 trees in 10 years is aimed at bringing numerous benefits to the City of Marco Island. But first, supporters of the idea need to make sure they have enough backing from island residents.

Marco Island City Councilor Becky Irwin was on the BAC for four years before being elected to city council. “I think the whole council is behind a more beautiful city, and we really need community input because there are concerns,” Irwin said. “We want them to love it as much as we do and we want it to look great, so one of the first things we need to do is get a survey and community involvement in choosing trees.”

Bringing thousands of trees to the island could have benefits that residents may not realize, according to the BAC. Those include absorbing CO2 from vehicles, capturing storm water after heavy rains and providing shade to reduce skin-damaging UV-B radiation.

“I know a lot of residents are very interested in improving ecology on the island from water quality to green infrastructure,” BAC member David Leaser said. “We know by doing this we’ll be able to reduce runoff into the canals.”

City Council member Irwin knows that it may be difficult to win support of all residents.

“Sometimes it’s hard for people to see the benefit if they don’t want a tree in their yard,” Irwin said.

Christine Dowell is a resident of Marco Island who voiced concerns at the city council meeting after the BAC’s presentation. “The people I’ve heard from don’t want to have the cost of taking care of the trees, nor the responsibility if their sidewalk bumps up,” Dowell said. “It’s a huge expense.”

Leaser assured that there will be many thorough studies of the land considered for planting before making any final conclusions.

“All the decisions that will be made are going to be data-driven decisions,” Leaser said. “Some trees could lift sidewalks so we’d have to be careful of that, some trees have leaf litter you don’t want in your canals, some trees absorb an enormous amount of water and you do want those in places where there’s runoff issues.”

The BAC is looking to get input from other experts in the field to ensure the trees are put in the right spaces.

“We want to make sure that we’re getting it right instead of just worrying about aesthetics,” Irwin said. “It’s about ecology as well.”

Marco Island homeowner Dave Cook said he would be willing to plant another tree in his yard to support the initiative, but has concerns about space.

“We have quite a few (trees) already, but the question would be which trees they’d want because we do have space for it,” Cook said. “They’d go in the front because we live on the river, the concern would be disturbing our view.”

As for the type of trees, Irwin emphasizes that they will all fit property in Florida’s ecological community.

“We’re able to grow some very interesting trees in our area, but we want to make sure they’re Florida friendly,” Irwin said. “They’re not going to require extra care in our environment.”

Due to Marco’s unique ecosystem, there is potential for this project to bring trees that are native, but uncommon for the area.

“I think there are a lot of native trees that are underutilized,” Leaser said. “Marco Island could be a showcase for native trees.”

The BAC wants to assure residents of the city that their concerns will be a priority throughout the decade-long process.

"The residents of Marco Island make the decisions,” Leaser said. “It’ll be up to us to capture what their interests are, what their concerns may be, and what they see as value.”