Reality Check: Mass tree removal at Asheville Walmart raises environmental concerns

A contractor worked to remove trees from a detention pond at an East Asheville Walmart (Courtesy: WLOS)

Walmart paid for a large number of trees to be cut down next to its Bleachery Boulevard store in East Asheville. The trees lived in a detention pond, and there are some concerns their absence increases the chances that runoff will reache the Swannanoa River.

Previously, Walmart disputed owning the pond. Now Walmart accepts ownership, and some people aren't happy with what the company has done.

News 13 has been keeping an eye on this site for months. The trees were cut down in February.

The head of Asheville Greenworks said Walmart followed proper protocol in cutting the trees. However, she said that's because the site was ignored for so long it required such a major tree removal.

Work continued last week while Greenworks' Executive Director Dawn Chavez took in piles of wood replacing what used to look like woods. The detention pond gathers runoff from the Walmart parking lot.

"I'm not a tree hugger, but I am concerned about the larger ecosystem. When trees like this are removed, it hurts the ecosystem services they provide," Chavez said.

The site looked quite different a month ago. It needed cleaning. Greenworks brought a group of volunteers, students from Wellesly College in Massachusetts, to pick up more than just litter.

"I feel like there's half of a bath tub. So, I want to get that out with you guys," said Greenworks' John Connelly, who was leading the volunteer group.

The fence and the trees made it hard to get a sense of how much litter there was, but volunteer Sophia Khoury described the scent.

"It smells like a porta potty after a long day in the sun during the summer at a crowded state fair," Khoury said.

Stinky, in need of cleaning, and perhaps not pretty. However, the pond was effective, and the trees served a purpose.

"To help filter any sediment, or pollutants that run off the parking lot and surrounding area, to keep them from entering the Swannanoa River," Chavez said.

A viewer first came to News 13 in September with concerns. At the time, Walmart said it would clean the pond, but a spokesperson said that didn't mean Walmart declares ownership of it. Walmart accepts ownership now, and said they're in the middle of a clean up process, which will include planting trees in spring 2018.

After being ignored for so long, Chavez said the pond's clean up required the large amount of tree removal. Going forward, Greenworks will keep an eye on the site to make sure Walmart maintains it.

If you need to remove trees, Chavez said to make sure you have a certified arborist, not just a tree removal service.

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