Lovely trees are cleared for cutdown

Planes using Crystal Airport don't fly over the eight white pines, but the Airports Commission insists that seven of them must go to meet rules.

Charles and Linda Lakotas love the eight white pine trees that grow at the end of their back yard in Crystal. They love the way the trees bend and sway in the summer breeze, the way the boughs droop with snow in winter, the soft wall of evergreen that greets their eyes in every season.

In November, the couple found out that seven of the beloved trees would have to be cut down. They had grown too tall to be allowed by the Crystal Airport. The Lakotases' back yard lies within the runway "protection zone," and a survey done every five years determined that the trees, 50 years old and about 50 feet tall, should be part of the "Crystal Airport Obstruction Removal Project."

Value of those trees to the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC): $4,441.74. Value to the couple: more than money.

"They're kind of the cornerstone of our yard," Charles Lakotas said.

"They're a wonderful haven for birds and animals," Linda Lakotas said.

Charles Lakotas has lived in the house on Elmhurst Avenue for 26 years. The property is separated from the airport by a railroad track and County Road 81. Airplanes never pass directly over his house, he said. Besides, the city of Crystal has several times asked the MAC to shut down the airport, which is used primarily by recreational aircraft and its traffic is among the lowest of Twin Cities reliever airports.

Still, the MAC voted in December 2007 to keep the airport open, with two runways instead of four. "There are no intentions to close the airport," said MAC spokesman Patrick Hogan.

That means 29 trees on nine properties (total appraised value $21,312) will have to get out of the way, in addition to those growing on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe right of way. Hogan said federal and state rules won't allow the Lakotases' pines to stand.

"There is no way, unfortunately, we would allow them to keep them," Hogan said.

The couple have gotten their own appraisal that puts a higher price on the trees.

Both hobby gardeners, Charles and Linda Lakotas are imagining their plantings getting "fried" without the shade. They're not looking forward to the treeless view out their back door. What's more, if pilots are flying so low and off-course as to clip their treetops, they say, how safe are they in the living room of their rambler?

"We would prefer them to hit our trees than hit our house," Linda Lakotas said.

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