CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Have you seen the trees?
Charlotte is number one for the most and best tree canopy out of all the top 20 cities in the United States. Few can debate the beauty of the Queen City as it relates to the number and placement of trees.
On a recent trip to the airport I chose the Wallace Neal Road route, not for any other reason than probably fewer cars. I was right. But, what caught my attention wasn’t the lack of traffic.
Instead, it was the number of newly planted trees, many right under existing power lines. The following week I called Charlotte Douglas International Airport to inquire about who signed off on planting the trees there and wondered what the airport had paid to do it.
I was told by spokesperson Lee Davis that the trees were part of the new runway expansion program and that the airport was following through on a commitment it made to the neighbors.
There are no homes along Wallace Neal Road. In fact, the nearest neighborhood is west of the new runway, across I-485, and through the thick woods.
NewsChannel 36 put up Airstar 36 to see just how many homes were down there and we quickly discovered, not many.
The airport planted 2,000 trees along a 19-mile perimeter of the facility. It took 18 days to do the labor and cost $60 a tree totaling $120,000. The types of trees planted are Leyland Cypress and Bradford Pears.
Following our flight, we drove to the nearest neighborhood we spotted from the air. We found Paul Raynor shilling peas in his driveway and asked him if he or any of his neighbors had contacted the airport asking for trees along Wallace Neal Road.
Paul, a neighbor to the airport for 40 years, told us he didn’t ask anyone for trees and that no one from the airport asked him.
The airport administration was clear in telling me that no taxpayer dollars were used to fund the tree planting project. The airport is however, a public place, and it is supported with and by public dollars in the form of user fees. That means anything you buy at the airport, from an airline ticket to a cup of coffee, goes to fund and support airport operations.
When I asked to interview the airport director, Jerry Orr, about the trees, I was told by his media department that this was not an “interview worthy” story.
NewsChannel 36 wanted to ask Mr. Orr if that use of public money could have been better spent by putting the trees in a more public spot instead of under power lines on a road that doesn’t see much traffic.
NewsChannel 36 did speak with Charlotte City Council member Edwin Peacock III, who chairs the Committee on the Environment. Peacock told me that the Charlotte Tree ordinance was not in play and that the airport was not under any requirement to plant trees along Wallace Neal Road.
Peacock also said it was fair to raise the question about “why there?” Peacock told me that Charlotte and the airport need to be more strategic with what it spends on trees and where those trees are planted.
Take a look at Duke Energy's requirements for planting under or near power lines.