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Public Can Weigh In On Bowman Field Tree Removals This Week

The Louisville Regional Airport Authority will hold a public meeting this week on a controversial plan to remove hundreds of trees near Bowman Fieldto meet Federal Aviation Authority requirements.

The LRAA released a draft environmental assessment for the plan last month. It recommends even more tree removal than the authority initially anticipated. In all, more than 200 trees will be removed. Most are near the airport, and are species that are either over 90 feet tall or have the potential to grow that large.

“We’re obligated by our grant assurances, and the FAA regulations tell us that the airport is responsible to keep approaches to runways clear,” said LRAA Deputy Executive Director for Planning and Engineering Brian Sinnwell. “So, we’re obligated to do that, and that’s what we’ve been trying to do through this process.”

More than 100 trees have already been removed for the program — either on property owned by Metro government or the airport, or land where the airport already owned the air easement space.

Public outcry in the neighborhoods surrounding Bowman Field — many of which are desirable because of their mature trees and proximity to leafy Seneca Park — was swift when the LRAA announced the plan in 2011. Citizens formed a group called Plea for the Trees to lobby against the tree removals. Now, Plea for the Trees attorney Leslie Barras said the group is mostly resigned to losing the community’s largest trees and is focused on what will replace them.

“The public can still play a huge role in getting more mitigation for those substantial environmental and community losses,” she said.

She noted that the draft environmental assessment doesn’t commit the LRAA to replacing the trees it removes, though the airport authority has said it will replace every tree removed with two smaller ones, as well as provide additional assistance to homeowners.

Barras said especially when considering Louisville’s urban heat island problem — which recommends planting 2,545 additional trees in the near Bowman Field without taking the airport’s removal plan into account — the LRAA should do more. And she said there will be another side-effect of the expansion plan.

“Basically by removing these trees, nighttime flights will be able to be resumed at Bowman Field, which will have impacts on the neighborhood,” she said. “And that hasn’t been fully disclosed in the environmental study, as well.”

Sinnwell said it’s true that the tree removal would allow some runway approaches to be safe at night, but it’s nothing new for Bowman Field.

“We’re not doing anything new; we just want to get back what we had,” he said. “So for example, some of the approaches to the runways we can’t use at night because of safety concerns so those approaches are shut down. All we want to do is get those back. And how we get those back is to clear trees. And that’s what we’re after.”

The public meeting will be Tuesday, June 28 at the Breckinridge Inn (2800 Breckinridge Ln) from 5:30-7:30 pm.

Erica Peterson is WFPL's Director of News and Programming.