The death of a tree on Washington Street shall remain a mystery.
City and state officials say there are no pending inquiries into how a once-healthy tree in Bloomington’s Founders’ Grove died. But a new police report obtained by GLT shows that city officials at one time suspected someone was attempting to kill it by dumping gasoline or diesel fuel around it.
The city-owned honey locust tree—around 25 years old and worth around $8,500—was located on a parkway along Washington Street at Mercer Avenue, near the Gray Ledges historic property. The home's owner, Greg Shepard, asked the City of Bloomington last year to remove trees near the property. The city removed two dead trees and trimmed three healthy ones. Shepard later asked the city to remove one of the three healthy trees, but the city said it declined. Earlier this year a passer-by noticed that the once-healthy tree appeared dead—and had an odor—and reported it to the city.
A Bloomington Police report from April 12 shows that Bloomington Parks and Recreation staff told an officer that they suspected someone “was attempting to kill the tree by dumping gasoline or diesel fuel around" it. The grass around the base of the tree was brown that spring day—though other grass in the area was green.
“There was a strong odor of what was most likely gasoline or diesel fuel emitting from the ground around the base of the tree,” the officer wrote in the report.
Parks and Rec staff provided the officer with a soil sample from around the base of the tree, in a glass jar. It also smelled very strongly of gasoline or diesel fuel, the officer noted.
Bloomington Police administratively closed the case. In early August, after the dead tree was cut down, GLT asked BPD spokesperson Elias Mendiola why Parks and Rec had referred the matter to police.
“I could not speak for their mindset (Parks and Rec) though we do of course look into what person(s) feel may be suspicious activity,” Mendiola said. “Also, with any item which may be evidentiary in nature, we do initiate reports in order to properly document the chain of custody and enter the item into evidence.”
The city does not appear to be pursuing the matter further.
“I am not anticipating any further action on behalf of the city at this time,” city spokesperson Nora Dukowitz said via email this week.
Meanwhile, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency told GLT there is no formal complaint open related to the dead tree. That contradicts previous information provided by the IEPA.
“To clarify, IEPA did receive a call about a dead tree, but a formal complaint was not taken,” IEPA spokesperson Kim Biggs said in an email. “Therefore, I am not able to identify who initiated the call. The caller was told the issue would not be an IEPA matter. Unless we have evidence of illegal disposal activity, it is beyond IEPA’s scope of authority. If someone used an herbicide to kill the tree, the Illinois Department of Agriculture may become involved, but it appears this is likely a local matter.”
It’s unclear why Shepard wanted the removed tree gone in the first place. The Gray Ledges property has undergone renovations in recent years, since Shepard bought it in 2015. A building permit was issued in 2017 for a new driveway. That new driveway runs right into the area where the dead tree was removed.
Shepard declined comment when reached by a reporter earlier this month.
“If this turns into a story, I guess I’ll read about it in the paper,” he told GLT before hanging up.
This is not the first tree-removal dispute related to the property. Shepard mistakenly removed some trees along Mercer Avenue that belonged to the city in 2015. Shepard apologized for the trees that were cut down mistakenly, according to the minutes from a Zoning Board of Appeals meeting in October 2015.
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