Rare trees on planned shelter site County not required to save them in building haven for homeless

January 13, 1998|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

The Westminster park where the County Commissioners plan to build a homeless shelter contains several Kentucky coffee trees, which are so rare in Maryland that they are rated "critically imperiled."

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources designation means the trees might be found in as few as five places in the state. Despite the trees' rarity, state law imposes no requirements on developers to preserve them, DNR officials said.

Kentucky coffee trees are not considered rare through most of their range in the eastern and central United States.

The 5.25-acre park off North Center Street adjacent to the County Office Building contains three clusters of two or three Kentucky coffee trees each, said Laura Moran, project manager for the restoration of Longwell Run, which runs through the site. The stream has been improved with an adjacent wetland to reduce the impact of runoff.

The county's environmental review checklist for the shelter says the county government will make "every effort" to preserve the trees.

State law, "doesn't guarantee that a tree on the site will always be on the site. Even the champion trees [huge, ancient specimens], the way the law is written, it doesn't say they have to stay on the site," said Rob Prenger, DNR project forester.

Prenger said the developer, in this case the county government, "is supposed to work around special features as best they can. It doesn't guarantee that any special feature on the site will be saved."

Westminster city officials, who must approve the project because it is within the city limits, have said they plan to seek environmental reviews. The trees' rarity might prompt state officials to recommend preserving them, Moran said.

G. Michael Evans, the county public works director, said he doesn't know whether the shelter can be built without cutting down the trees.

The county has received about $800,000 in state and federal aid over three years to improve Longwell Run, a severely degraded stream. Last fall, the commissioners decided to return $81,000 and to cut planned projects that would have completed the stream improvement because they feared further work would have cost the county more.

The commissioners chose the county-owned property for the homeless shelter in November 1997, over the objections of city government leaders, who proposed other sites.

The commissioners must build an overnight shelter because the county sold the existing 26-bed shelter and the adjacent Carroll County Health Department building to Carroll County General Hospital in 1994. The planned 2,800-square-foot shelter is expected to accommodate 25 people.

The Kentucky coffee tree "is rare, but it's not the Wye Oak," Evans said. "It's something you're supposed to pay attention to, and we certainly would, but it's too early in the process to see how that would be handled."

The Kentucky coffee tree got its name when pioneers moving west into Kentucky tried grinding the seeds from the tree's large seed pods to make coffee. The resulting beverage tasted bad, said DNR spokesman Richard McIntire.

Pub Date: 1/13/98

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