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Tree Removal Causes Stir In Bloomington's Founders' Grove

Tree stump with a cone on top
Ryan Denham
A cone sits on a stump where a dead tree was recently removed, outside the Gray Ledges historic property in Bloomington.

The death and removal of a once-healthy tree in Bloomington’s Founders' Grove has sparked a police referral and a complaint to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

It happened near Washington Street and 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, said city spokesperson Nora Dukowitz.

Shepard later asked the city to remove one of the three healthy trees, but the city declined, Dukowitz said. Recently a passer-by noticed that the once-healthy tree appeared dead—and had an odor—and reported it to the city, she said.

Indeed, the tree—located on the parkway, between the sidewalk and Washington Street—was dead. Bloomington’s Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Arts department removed it and also took a soil sample, Dukowitz said. Based on the odor, Parks and Rec alerted Bloomington Police and gave them the soil sample, she said.

The police case has since been administratively closed, said BPD spokesperson Elias Mendiola. So why did Parks and Rec refer it to BPD?

“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 in an email. “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.”

Meanwhile, a complaint has filed with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, spokesperson Melaney Arnold said Friday. But the agency has not yet investigated it due to other/higher priorities, she added. It’s unclear who filed the complaint.

“There are questions,” said Ward 4 Alderman Amelia Buragas, who represents the neighborhood. “It’s my understanding there’s an investigation, just to see if there’s anything more to it. Even large mature trees that appear to be healthy do die. A lot can go on. I hope we can get answers to those questions. We’ll just have to wait for that process to play out.”

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.

“Why he wanted the trees removed is probably best answered by Mr. Shepard,” Dukowitz said in an email.

Shepard declined comment Friday.

“If this turns into a story, I guess I’ll read about it in the paper,” he told GLT before hanging up.

Buragas said trees are important piece of Bloomington’s high quality of life.

“Any time a mature tree in the parkway dies or has to be removed for any reason, it’s disappointing because there are benefits to having trees in the parkway,” Buragas said. “There’s a reason that Bloomington is so proud of being a Tree City USA. It’s a loss. Many people in the neighborhood have reached out to me to express their disappointment that the tree could not be saved.”

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, The Pantagraph reported. 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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