Of the Baker City Herald

Four old maple trees slated to be felled next summer when a section of Dewey Avenue is rebuilt might survive the rigors of digging, compacting and paving after all.

The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) has proposed to change construction plans slightly to try to protect the trees, which are about 85 years old but still healthy.

andquot;We still can't guarantee that we'll save the trees, but we have a much, much higher chance of that if we make this change,andquot; said Mark Hanson, ODOT's manager for the Dewey project.

Even with the change, two other large trees on that block, both horse chestnuts, still will be cut, Hanson said.

The horse chestnuts are in front of the home at 1234 Dewey, a house that's vacant and for sale.

Two of the maples are on Sam Lay's property at 1240 Dewey, and the two others are owned by his neighbors at 1242 Dewey, John and Michelle Howlett.

Both Lay and the Howletts have said recently that they would rather keep their old trees than replace them with new ones ODOT had offered to buy.

Michelle Howlett said Monday that she's happy about ODOT's new plan.

andquot;If it saves the trees, that's what we care most about right now,andquot; she said.

Here's how the agency has proposed to protect that quartet of trees:

The curb on the east side of Dewey, the side where the trees are, would be moved west when the street is rebuilt, away from the park strip where the trees are rooted, Hanson said.

That means the contractor's excavator, which will dig down about 20 inches to prepare the new base for the street, will not cut into the ground as close to the trees and their vulnerable roots as ODOT originally planned, he said.

Hanson said an arborist who surveyed the site Friday with the Howletts concluded that ODOT's proposed change probably would save the trees in part because it's unlikely their underground roots spread far in the direction of the street.

Roots tend to extend into places where water is available, Hanson said, and there's probably not much moisture beneath the street because the nearly impervious pavement prevents water from seeping into the soil.

Moving the curb west would eliminate curbside parking on the east side of Dewey from Myrtle Street north to the crosswalk near Second Street, Hanson said.

Prohibiting parking there would be necessary to maintain the current width of the driving lanes on Dewey, he said.

Parking still would be allowed on the west side of Dewey, adjacent to the Elkhorn Athletic Club.

Michelle Howlett said she doesn't mind the loss of a few curbside parking spaces.

andquot;We'd be more than happy to lose that parking to save the trees,andquot; she said.

Hanson said he will submit the proposal to a citizens advisory group that has reviewed ODOT's plans for the Dewey project.

That group will then report to the Baker City Council.

Beverly Calder, who lives on Dewey and is a member of the citizens advisory group, said she supports ODOT's proposed changes.

Calder said she always has wanted ODOT to eliminate curbside parking on the east side of Dewey. When cars are parked there they block the view of drivers, endangering South Baker Elementary students and other pedestrians who cross Dewey at the crosswalk near Second Street, she said.

Hanson said he does not think the proposed changes would greatly affect the construction schedule.

Although Dewey Avenue is within the city limits, ODOT is responsible for rebuilding the street because it actually is part of Ore. Highway 7.