Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot promised a year ago that the city would use $46 million in pandemic relief funds to plant 75,000 trees across the city, but concerns are growing that thousands of trees remain in abandoned lots, and may die as the city expects a cold snap this weekend.
At her budget address this week, Lightfoot once again touted the tree-planting program, which was designed to “enhance (Chicago’s) urban tree canopy” in the coming years.
Ald. Ray Lopez, who is running to unseat Lightfoot next year, says that his office discovered hundreds of trees in a vacant lot at 46th Street and Damen in July.
After bringing up concerns, Lopez says that city workers began to take them to various locations, but he’s concerned that it’s too little, too late.
“Overnight, they were here and the city began aggressively trying to find locations to plant all of them,” he said.
Parts of northern Illinois could see a hard freeze on Friday night and into Saturday morning, according to weather forecasts, which would likely kill any unprotected plants that haven’t been given a chance to take root.
“Here they are all rotting away, weeks before the first frost, which will probably kill them all,” Lopez said. “We have seen minimal movement, and there are many trees that have sat here all summer.”
Lightfoot has repeatedly promoted the tree-equity program, and did so again this week.
“We are making progress on our goal to plant 75,000 new trees to enhance our urban tree canopy. This is the largest tree planting initiative in the city’s history,” she said.
The Chicago Streets and Sanitation Department says that they are projecting to exceed the mayor’s goal, and that they don’t pay for the trees until they are in the ground.
“The trees at 46th and Damen are on the site of the city’s tree planting contractor, who as per their contract receives payment once the tree is planted,” a statement read. “The city has planted over 10,000 trees to date in 2022, and we’re expecting to meet, or exceed, the mayor’s yearly goal.”
According to NBC 5’s Mary Ann Ahern, there are new trees in the ground along Western Avenue, but reporters also observed trees dying in a nearby empty lot despite city attempts to keep them watered.
“They absolutely can’t stay this way all winter because all the water will freeze, it will kill the roots and all of this will be wasted,” Lopez said.
Tree experts told NBC that it’s ideal in the Midwest to get trees planted before Oct. 15, but it is unclear whether the city will reach that goal.