ITC Holdings grants Oakland County $100,000 to plant trees

Oakland County was recently awarded a grant of $100,000 to plant trees on public land in the Rouge River watershed. The 2011 Great Lakes Initiative Restoration Grant (GLIR), which was sought by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) and doled out in portions to Oakland County, Wayne County and the city of Detroit, is administered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

“SEMCOG came to us and said, ‘There’s this grant out here, are you guys interested in partnering on it?’” explains Bret Rasegan, Oakland County Planning and Economic Services Supervisor. SEMCOG wrote the grant proposal in partnership with Oakland, Wayne and Detroit, and the proposal was awarded. Oakland County’s proposal was for $400,000 and they ultimately received $100,000 of the grant’s funds – still a significant amount of money, but not quite what they had hoped for initially. Until ITC stepped in.

ITC Holdings Corp. is the nation’s largest independent electricity transmission company. They are based in Novi, Michigan but have holdings all over the Midwest and Great Plains. As a company they strive to improve the grid system reliability, expand access to markets, lower the overall cost of delivered energy and allow new generating resources to interconnect to its transmission systems. The corporation has demonstrated a clear commitment to the use of green energies by launching the Green Power Express transmission expansion concept, which would allow the significant wind resources naturally abundant in the Midwest region to be developed and integrated into the electric grid. ITC is making huge investments to modernize the grid system with such forward-thinking methods as the Green Power Express in order to maintain the existing capacity and reliability of the system and plan for the future as American lifestyles become increasingly dependent on electricity.

“The corporation is a long-time supporter of Oakland County’s green infrastructure vision,” Rasegan says, “which is a county-wide vision for how features like lakes, streams and parks are set up throughout the county. ITC supports our education and training in that area by sponsoring workshops and paying for native landscaping on the county campus, printing maps and educational materials … but certainly nothing like this!”

“This” being the $100,000 grant match that ITC Holdings Corp. made to Oakland County, which in effect more than doubled the number of trees they will be able to plant in public spaces. “It still just amazes me when I think about it, the contribution to these Oakland county communities,” Rasegan says.

“Once the grant was awarded we started to look at different environmental features and how best to use this money,” he further explains. “We work with ITC on a number of things – county economic development initiatives and other environmental initiations, so I spoke to Donna [Zalewski, ITC Local Government and Community Affairs] because I knew that ITC has assets and I was just looking [to use their public] land.”

What he didn’t know was the ITC had their own Corporate Citizenship Program with which they reinvest in communities. The GLRI Grant was in keeping with their own community efforts, so they decided to match it with another $100,000. After going to the Oakland County Board of Commissioners and getting unanimous support to accept the donation, Rasegan’s office was now looking at twice the amount of money and had to prepare proposals that were twice as large as what was originally planned.

“Because of the economies of scale, doubling the size of the contract allowed us to purchase more trees,” Rasegan says. “We’ll now be able to plant around 850 trees; the number more than doubled.” Actually it very nearly tripled; the original number of trees to be planted with the first $100,000 was 335.

They have already begun planting. About 60% of the planting will be completed this fall and the rest in the spring (for the species that aren’t as winter-hardy in early stages of planting). The grand total will be 850 trees across 21 sites throughout Oakland County, with West Bloomfield, Novi and Farmington Hills identified as target communities for increased tree coverage.

To identify these target communities, Oakland County looked at watershed characteristics such as land area, public lands, population, tree cover, lakes and streams. The 21 sites include civic centers, parks, roads, roundabouts and a golf course. The intention behind the GLRI Grant and the planting of these trees goes beyond simple beautification (which is certainly an added advantage, though not the primary goal). “The main purpose is storm water management and air noise pollution mitigation,” Rasegan explains. “That is why we were interested because we thought we could make a positive environmental impact with that grant. Some of the sites are highways and roundabouts where that is the purpose. The purpose of the grant aligned with [our] office’s goal to help sustain local communities and nurture the quality of life and economic stability. It was a good match.”

The trees need to be monitored for the first two years after planting to ensure that they are not afflicted with disease or rot, and that is where the individual communities come in. “After identifying the communities based on environmental factors like population and public land, the communities had to agree that they would be full partners in identifying sites and monitoring the trees for the first two years,” Rasegan notes. “They are providing staff support we wouldn’t have without their involvement and shepherding the development [of the trees]. We couldn’t have a staff person driving around looking at 850 trees, so the communities are taking up their part as well.”