Thursday, October 30, 2008
Carmel on the Case: Money Trees
From your city council to the Florida Legislature, governments are having to make big cuts because of the poor economy. But one area that seems to have escaped the budget ax is landscaping along South Florida roads. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero has this special assignment report "Money Trees."
WSVN -- You've probably heard the expression, "Money doesn't grow on trees," but it does for the folks who sell trees to Florida government agencies.
A Seven News investigation reveals that while people and businesses are pinching pennies, tens of millions of dollars are being spent to landscape our roadways.
Take the Dolphin Expressway for example. In just the last year, $2.8 million has been spent landscaping the 10-mile roadway. The money comes from construction budgets.
But when is enough, enough? At the exit of the Dolphin and 107th Street, I counted 2,500 trees, not to mention a ton of other smaller plants. Is it necessary to plant a forest?
Cindy Polo Serantes: "Many of our students who have to go to Florida International University travel through there. Also many of our tourists connect to the Turnpike to go down to Key West, go down to South Beach or to any critical areas of Miami-Dade County, travel that area."
And that's not the only heavily-planted area. Just look at this overpass on the Dolphin Expressway. I counted 480 palm trees here.
And there is a lot of money being spent on trees and landscaping and maintenance. Miami-Dade County, for example is due to spend close to $5 million this year.
In Broward, they not only plant trees but spend even more money making sure they're watered. The average cost, $400,000 per mile, but the County Landscape Architect says the trees give back.
Charlie Quandt: "They give off oxygen and eat up the carbon dioxide that the cars dish out."
The State of Florida is also spending a lot of money, about $30 million a year, and it has to. There's actually a law requiring one and a half percent of each construction project budget be spent on highway beautification.
Jeff Caster: "People don't want us to build ugly highways."
Jeff Caster is the state's landscape architect.
Jeff Caster: "It's just amazing how many people want more trees and more landscape. I haven't heard anybody that wants less."
The Sawgrass follows the state formula for spending. The cost this year: $3.6 million.
Sonyha Rodriguez-Miller: "So we are doing what we are supposed to be doing."
Records show one 18-foot Royal Palm tree cost $2,100.
And then there's this, trees. Dozens of them planted between two walls along the Sawgrass. No one can even see these trees, and we found this in not just one area but in three.
Carmel Cafiero: "There's no doubt trees are good for the environment, and it's clear they are needed. But with thousands being planted in just one area, or dozens planted behind walls, it also seems clear someone in authority might want to take a closer look at these 'money trees.'"
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