The trees are alright

Hinkle Creek trees escape the ax after newer Folsom council members side with concerned residents

After more than three years of public debate, a changing of the political guard led the Folsom City Council to narrowly abandon its plan to remove 80 mature trees from the Hinkle Creek Nature Area this month.

Since 2015, the city’s Environmental & Water Resources Department has been looking for a way to address maintenance issues with a sewer pipeline in the Lower American River Canyon, issues that caused two sewage overflows near Hinkle Creek, Folsom’s only designated nature preserve. But the solution that director Marcus Yasutake developed with outside consultants called for a road to be cut through a pristine riparian hideaway.

A group of concerned residents recommended alternatives that included more regular cleaning, maintenance with spider tractors instead of construction trucks and monitoring devices on all sewer manholes. The City Council in 2017 directed Yasutake to find a compromise with the volunteer working group. On Sept. 10, Yasutake presented options that would destroy fewer trees than originally planned.

But with another energized crowd in the chambers, first-term council members Mike Kozlowski and Roger Gaylord told Yasutake to save all the trees. At first, Councilman Ernie Sheldon was reluctant to back that directive since the city spent some $700,000 on contracts and consultants.

“But pressing ahead with a project that we don’t all necessarily believe in is also a very hard decision to make,” Kozlowski told him and the audience.

Gaylord seconded that, reminding the council of Folsom’s branding. “When I look at that ‘Distinct by Nature’ slogan that we pitch daily, this is something to me,” Gaylord stressed.

Mayor Kerri Howell vehemently opposed killing the road project. “This is an accident waiting to happen,” she argued. “We’ve discussed this to death, and we’re going to get absolutely no sympathy from the state water control board and regional water control board when this line fails.”

Kozlowski, Gaylord and Sheldon voted to spare Hinkle Creek’s trees, with Howell and Councilwoman Sarah Aquino dissenting.