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Photo: N/A, License: N/A, Created: 2017:06:02 15:54:20

At the dedication of the West Pittston Community Garden in 2017, from left, are Tristian Sokach-Minnick, Kendra O’Brien, Judy Stevenson, Lynn Burbank, David Todd, state Rep. Aaron Kaufer, Gov. Tom Wolf, U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, John Ochman and John Kearns.

West Pittston Tomorrow wants to make sure the borough’s cherry blossom trees have a tomorrow. Floods, ice jams and improper pruning have damaged dozens of the iconic trees.

A fundraiser for WPT’s projects, including the tree replenishment program, will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday, April 25, at Sabatini’s Bottle Shop and Bar in Exeter. Tickets for the event are $20 and include three beers, unlimited Sabatini’s pizza, entertainment by The Classics, featuring Deb Switzer and Frank Galoardi, and a huge tricky tray raffle with a large assortment of baskets.

Tickets will be available at the door the day of the event, in advance at Ballyhoo on Luzerne Avenue, or by calling John Kearns at 570-332-3421.

Phyllis Bell, WPT vice president, said the group got two large donations in consecutive years from the family foundation of a former borough resident. They are using the money to trim, cut down and replace cherry trees on the riverbank lots across Susquehanna Avenue from the empty lots where flooded houses were bought and demolished by FEMA. The lots were turned over to the borough as “green space.”

These lots, which can not be developed, include one between the bridges; two at the end of Delaware, one on the north side of Philadelphia and Susquehanna, and from Atlantic to the former armory. Vince Catrone, an urban forester with Penn State Extension in West Pittston, identified 36 trees on these lots as being in distress. Half need proper pruning and half will be removed. Thirty new trees will be planted. Most of the trees on private properties where there weren’t FEMA buyouts also are in poor condition.

Most of the riverbank cherry blossom trees are 50- plus years old, having been planted in 1956 and again in 1966 thanks to Roy Stauffer, who bought 2,000 to 3,000 trees, which were planted all over Greater Pittston. Japanese Cherry Blossom trees are not hardy or long-lived and most of those thousands did not survive. The first major bloom in West Pittston was in 1967.

Bell said she hopes the project, “will beautify West Pittston and bring it back to its former status as the Garden Village.”

West Pittston Tomorrow President Lynn Burbank said Shade Tree Commission equipment will be used to plant the new trees. The tree roots will be rapped in “Gator Bags” to retain water.

Burbank said the buyout lots in West Pittston present a challenge.

“It’s a patchwork compared to Jenkins, which has that large swath along River Street. We can’t turn them all into parks; planting trees is one of the recommended uses.”

One of the buyout lots was turned into a community garden three years ago. Gov. Tom Wolf dedicated the garden. WPT leased the property from the borough.

“We have three sizes of garden plots and running water. Last season the garden was two-thirds full,” Burbank said.

Ellen Quinn, West Pittston council president and a past WPT president, said the original purpose of WPT, formed after the 2011 Flood, was to promote flood protection. She said a letter writing campaign in 2013 quickly raised $9,000.

“West Pittston is one and one-third miles of Wyoming Valley and it is the only borough that does not have some kind of flood protection,” Quinn said. She bristles at the suggestion West Pittston passed on a chance to have dikes years ago, calling it an “urban legend.”

The Army Corps of Engineers built and maintains the Wyoming Valley Levee System. When the Corps raised and reinforced the levee in 2010, protection for West Pittston was not included based on a cost-benefit formula.

Quinn said it is possible for the borough to build levees with out the Corps.

“It was done in Bloomsburg without the Army Corps, with federal, state and county money,” she said.

WPT has retained Borton Lawson to do a feasibility study.

West Pittston residents are encouraged to join West Pittston Tomorrow. Visit wptomorrow.com or call Lynn Burbank at 570-891-4141. Or just come to a meeting at the West Pittston Library every second Monday. There are no membership dues.

Community garden plots are available, but going fast. Information about renting a plot is available at wptomorrow.com. Email is wptomorrowgarden@gmail.com. Also search West Pittston Tomorrow on Facebook.

jsmiles@pittstonprogress.com