Guest Column: Forest preserve clear-cut: Deal with it!

• Or, ‘Waiting for Arbor Day, not Godot’

Editor’s note: The following is the text of remarks made by Paul Arena during the public comment period at the Jan. 18 Winnebago County Forest Preserve District (WCFPD) board meeting. He attached the following note in his e-mail to The Rock River Times: “Here is my statement I made to the board. I spoke with Tom K [Kalousek, WCFPD executive director] and Randy [Olson, WCFPD board president] yesterday. They are planning a meeting for our group to work with them on a master plan for Roland Olson and how it will be replanted. I think that is very positive news. With your help, we stopped them from cutting 1,000 more tress and it appears we will have a say in what happens going forward. Thanks, Paul”

By Paul Arena
Roland Olson Forest Preserve Neighbor

Good evening, my name is Paul Arena. I am a resident of Winnebago County. I am here to address this board’s conduct regarding the alteration of Roland Olson Forest Preserve.

This action has been explained as necessary in the interest of prairie restoration. I am sure that prairies are an important component of a balanced environment that would include both wooded areas and prairies.

It is stated in the law governing this district that the purpose of the preserves is for the use by the general public. The law states it is this board’s function to provide the public “a well-balanced system of areas with scenic, ecological, recreational, and historic values for the inspiration, education, use and enjoyment by the public.” Roland Olson was an area that many of us frequently enjoyed.

Prior to the alteration, Roland Olson forest preserve was close to half prairie but also included a soccer field, a pavilion for public use and wooded areas where visitors could walk through.

The plan for Roland Olson on page 35 of the district’s 2012 resource management restoration manual calls for the removal of the majority of trees from the park, making the majority of the park tall grass. That is not well-balanced use of that particular area. In this case, the board has failed to represent the interest of a significant number of people who used that park the way it was.

The law governing this board also defines procedures for the contracting of services or for the capital improvement of public lands. With the intent of altering the park to convert it almost entirely to prairie, this board approved a contract to trade more than 4,000 trees for the service of their removal.

Regardless of how the work is defined, the law outlines procedures for a bidding process this board has failed to follow. These procedures are required when the compensation exceeds $20,000.

I believe the trees from Roland Olson have to be worth $5 each and would meet the threshold to require a competitive bid.

This tree harvest is from three forest preserves by the same contractor at the same time. The total value of the lumber harvested would be based on all the trees from all three preserves. The $20,000 threshold is based on the compensation to the contractor in the value of the tress, not what the district receives in return for the trees.

The excuse that there was no other willing bidder does not relieve the board of the requirement to follow the procedures defined in the law. Circumstances to document a sole bidder are addressed in the law and do not appear to have been followed. The intent of these laws is to ensure an open and public process before entering into this type of contract.

Section 2-348 of the law governing this board clearly states that the failure to follow the procedure defined in the law shall void the contract. This board should halt the removal of any cut lumber from our preserves until the public can be assured we are receiving fair compensation for the lumber.

It seems to be the position of this board that the alteration of these preserves without first gaining public opinion was a mistake in judgment, but the public needs to accept what has happened and move on. From the perspective of a person who enjoyed the park, I think a better approach would be to acknowledge that a mistake was made, and you will make things right instead of telling the people that a mistake was made and deal with it.

From the Jan. 25-31, 2012, issue

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