Last month Ald. Andre Vasquez, 40th Ward, woke up to panicked Saturday morning phone calls from his constituents.
They were watching in horror as the city chopped down more than a dozen trees on one block of Hermitage Avenue in Edgewater on the North Side.
“The Water Department had designated those as needing to be cut so they could do water main [replacement] work,” Vasquez recalled.
The alderman was just one month into his new job and not thrilled to find that the Water Department had ordered the removal of so many trees at once. So this week, Vasquez, along with more than 30 other aldermen, co-sponsored an ordinance that pushes the city to find construction alternatives to help save future trees.
The specific technology is called Cured In Place Piping or CIPP. It uses a liner that can shore up old water mains for about 50 years without digging up entire streets and removing trees. Toronto, Rockford and several local suburbs already use it, as WBEZ detailed in a story earlier this month.
In that story, WBEZ asked Water Department officials why they had not tried using CIPP liners, instead of the more destructive full water main replacement, in certain parts of the city. The department responded with a statement that said, in part: “The lining of water mains is not technically feasible for a dense, urban setting like Chicago.”
Water officials noted that they actually did a CIPP pilot on the South Side in 2017, and the pilot failed. The contractor on that pilot, however, contends that the test was improperly executed and actually doomed to fail.
Vasquez hopes an independent feasibility study and future pilot could give the technology another chance, and even save the city some money, as it has done in other municipalities.
“If we could find a way to save money and not cut down trees and have this as an option, then I think it’s a win for everyone,” Vasquez said.
In recent weeks, neighbors in Andersonville, led by resident Lesly Ames, have rallied to keep more than a dozen local trees slated for removal. They’ve also started a petition to save the trees; it’s been signed by more than 800 people.
Ames, and her alderman, Harry Osterman, 48th Ward, had heard that the city was pausing water-related tree removals for a few weeks to consider other options.
If the ordinance passes, this pause would last for even longer, Vasquez said.
“It would give us a year to figure out the feasibility study,” he said. “And between now and then, it would ask for a stoppage for any of the areas where trees would be designated to be cut down.”
The ordinance would also give officials at the city’s Bureau of Forestry some say in tree removal.
“Because they don’t necessarily want to cut down these trees either, unless they are diseased or old and need to be cut,” Vasquez said.
The alderman said he doesn’t envision CIPP being used all over the city, but rather as a “tool” in sensitive areas where water main repair threatens other interests, like trees.
“I don’t know that this would replace the water main work that needs to be done, but it could give us an opportunity to talk through options,” he said.
Vasquez introduced the ordinance with Ald. Brian Hopkins, 2nd Ward, who unsuccessfully petitioned the city last year to try CIPP in his ward. Today, the aldermen have 35 co-sponsors on the ordinance.
Water Department officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the proposed ordinance.
The proposal is now in the hands of the council’s Environmental Protection and Energy committee. If it makes it out of committee with enough votes this summer, Vasquez said he hopes to get a full City Council vote in September.