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Broadway widening threatens protected plant life

Posted at 5:20 PM, May 30, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-30 20:20:21-04

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - While there has been much controversy over buildings being threatened by the Broadway widening project, one City Council member said another piece of "collateral damage" is the protected and native plant life in the area. 

"This is just more of the collateral damage of the silly Broadway widening vote that the Mayor and City Council approved a few weeks ago," said Council Member for Ward 6 Steve Kozachik of a landscaped area near Broadway and Plumer that includes a Saguaro and mesquite trees.

Kozachik was the only Council Member to vote against approving the latest move allowing the Broadway widening project to go forward. That 5-1 vote approved $18 million to buy properties along Broadway for the project that will widen Broadway to six lanes between Euclid and Country Club.

Kozachik may have lost his fight to save the buildings, but he is now shifting focus to the protected plant life in the area that was just paid for with taxpayer dollars about two years ago. 

"It was a great thing, it provided a great buffer for the assisted living facility here.," said Kozachik. "But now, everything just to the south of where we're standing is going to become drive lane and so were eliminating the buffer that we created at the taxpayer expense a few years ago." 

Kozachik said he believes the trees and plants should be moved to a temporary home while the widening work is being done and then used once again as landscaping once the work is complete. He says that is exactly what residents would be expected to do if the plant life was on private property.

"We have an ordinance county-wide that we require the private sector to preserve them and relocate them and harvest them, but evidently that doesn't apply when it comes to the public sector," said Kozachik. 

He believes the cost of moving those plants should be absorbed into the cost of the project and not come at the taxpayers' expense.

Gary Wittmer, Landscape Architect with the Tucson Department of Transportation, said one Saguaro near Broadway and Plumer, that was removed Friday because it was at risk of falling over, would have cost $10,000-$20,000 to relocate. 

"Spending $20,000 on one plant seems a little ludicrous when it's that old when you could probably buy 40 or 50 for the $20,000 and get young ones started. Got to look to the future," said Wittmer. 

But for Kozachik, it comes down to two things: holding the city to the same standards as residents, who are not only tasks with protecting the plants on their property, but also are arrested and fined for damaging protecting saguaros; and not wasting taxpayer money. 

"We need to be smarter than that. There are plants behind me," said Kozachik standing near Broadway and Plumer. "[They] can be harvested, preserved, and simply moved 50 feet to the north, then let's just do that and not waste the investment we made two or three years ago."