Tree work at the BTR 2 site near the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Tree work at the the second Business and Technology Research Park (BTR) at Western Michigan University’s College of Engineering is underway, and activity is in line with guidelines set forth by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ).

Bob Miller, associate vice president for community outreach, said there is cutting and burning occurring with one group of old trees, and cutting of a brush species.

“There is what is referred to as old growth orchids — in essence, old apple trees that are no longer fruit bearing. But they are infected with arsenic. Arsenic is a natural occurrence from old growth fruit trees, it is also a result of some research done there many years ago, not by WMU,” Miller said.

WMU worked with MDEQ, consultants and engineers on the protocol for removal of these trees.

“The protocol is that those trees are to be burned on site. That transporting them could create the potential for other trees in other locations being infected. So we’re following what the MDEQ said to do. So they’ll be burned on site, the ashes will be buried, and any soil that was contaminated with be capsuled as to not have a negative environmental impact,” Miller said.

Additionally, an invasive species will be removed.

“The other trees that are being removed are referred to as scrub or invasive species that have had what is called volunteer growth. These are basically scrub trees that are invasive and potentially causing some problems for the mature, valuable trees that will be retained on site,” Miller said.

These trees will be removed, but will not be burned.

The activity over at the the BTR 2 site has had some worried about the development.

“When I went by there they were like cutting down big mature trees. Some of them are probably valuable lumber. Some of the trees were quite large, and they were just in huge piles getting burned,” said Daniel Blair, who coordinates community gardens with the Office for Sustainability. “It was made extra difficult to look at because there was this red tailed hawk sitting on top of one of the piles. It was so heartbreaking.”

Unfortunately, the MDEQ mandates this cutting and burning for trees infected with arsenic. However, large wooded areas in the south and north end of the property will be maintained.

“The development design will call for more than 50 percent of the entire footprint to remain open and wooded. So while it may look like some pretty drastic activity being undertaken at the site, there is in fact science and design behind it,” Miller said.

Additional environmental stewardship included maintaining protected orchids and moving a colony of bees, among others.  

“We located some beehives that were located there to the buffer zone next to the College of Engineering, BTR 1. At one time a species of orchid was identified on the site, and it's a protected species, so we in essence designed around it so it would not be disturbed,” Miller said.

Miller acknowledges that some may question Western’s decision to build on a site with what may seem like it contains several viable forms of life.

“One (reason for utilizing this site) is proximity to the College of Engineering and Applied sciences complex, and the fact that it's close to falculty and students, literally within walking distance. Another very basic answer is that the University already owned that property. We were not in a position where we had to go buy something or acquire something, it was something that was already owned by the University. It was contemplated since BTR 1 that that would be an expansion area for the BTR park.”

The 55-acre property was not filled with environments that needed to be taken care of, Miller said.

“One of the reasons why all of the activity is taking place now, is that there is a species of bat, the Northern Indiana bat, has a nesting period that begins in late April. Though we have no evidence that the Northern Indiana bat has ever located on the premises, there is a timeframe that is restricted in terms of tree work, because they could potentially be nesting during this window,” Miller said.

He expects that they will be given a Sustainable Sites designation later on in the development process, not unlike the LEED certification given to many buildings on Western’s campus.

Blair wishes that the public had been given more notice about what was happening.

“It seems like people in general, were just surprised by the way that the clear cutting happened, and the burning, nobody knew that was going to happen. It seems like there hasn’t been enough transparency regarding this,” Blair said.

Miller acknowledged that there were open meetings held for public input, and efforts to get the news of the cutting and burning out through local news.

“We had an advisory committee that was comprised of people from within and outside the university, we had students involved, faculty were involved, and representatives from the Office for Sustainability were involved as well,” Miller said. “I think that they are valid (concerns) but having said that, but once information has been shared, by in large the vast majority of concerns that people have, have gone away."

Miller says they have a great example of environmental stewardship right across the street, at BTR 1, which has been recognized nationally. Most site work at BTR 2 should be complete by Spring 2020. 

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