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When chips are down, Park Board finally delivers

Posted by: Steve Brandt under Parks and recreation, Politics and government, Urban living Updated: July 11, 2013 - 4:17 PM

One way to rile a Minneapolitan is to mess with his or her supply of free wood chips from the Park Board for mulching around the yard and garden.

The chips distributed at a dozen sites around the city have been regarded as a payoff for paying property taxes for parks.

So this year, people such as Bill Kahn of Prospect Park noticed when the chips were down. Turns out they were right, owing to a change in how the Park Board processes pruned and storm-downed trees. And park officials this week remedied the situation in response to rising complaints.

"I feel like it is the old story of less service for more revenue," Kahn complained.

By Friday, four sites should get an initial 100 cubic yards of chips, a supply that park officials say they'll replenish through Aug. 2.

A major reason for the reduced supply of chips is that the Park Board has changed how it chips waste from normal tree pruning.  In the past, eight crews began pruning trees in the winter, and brush was fed into portable chippers. Then the crews shiftied in the spring to planting trees, shifting in the summer to removal of elms with Dutch elm disease.

That normally meant two surges of chips for residents.  But this year the Park Board cut back to three chipper crews, and shifted most chipping to Koda Energy, which rents park land at Fort Snelling for $125,000 and keeps the chips to burn in its Shakopee waste-to-energy plant. Koda is a partnership of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and Rahr Malting Co.

Forestry Director Ralph Sievert said the shift was made to lessen worker injuries and improve efficiency.  The smaller chippers cause more injuries from workers feeding branches, while Koda's mammoth chippers are larger and require fewer people. Moreover, centralizing the chipping means that workers can focus on pruning while tree limbs are hauled by trucks with pincer claws to Koda's chipper. Except for the lease payment, no money changes hands for the chipping, he said. But the arrangement is expected to save the Park Board $400,000 annually from reduced injury costs and running fewer crews.

When the storm hit, residents expected to see chips at the usual dump sites scattered through the city. But with the chips headed for Shakopee, that wasn't happening.  Park officials had to ask Koda to donate chips to avert a PR problem.

The upside is that because ash wood was mixed with other woods in the storm, all the wood had to be ground to Minnesota Department of Agriculture specs to avert the spread of emerald ash borer. So the newly available chips should be of more uniformity than the ragged pieces that often show up at chip dumps in the city.

Where are the chips headed?  They'll be stockpiled at Armatage Park parking lot in the 5700 block of Russell Avenue S., Lake Nokomis parking lot on Nokomis Parkway between E. 50th Street and 22nd Av. S., a Marshall Terrace site near Randolph Street NE and 30th Av. NE, and Folwell Park's parking lot near Dowling and Knox Avenues N.

(Photo: Park workers prune trees after a May snowstorm. File photo by Jeff Wheeler)

 

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