Local tree advocates remain concerned that Caltrans and the Sonoma County Transportation Authority won't adequately replace the trees that have been removed for roadway projects in Petaluma, and won't do it in a timely manner.

Caltrans' contract to widen Highway 101 through Sonoma County requires it to landscape and beautify green stretches as much as possible, but does not require that every cut down tree be replaced.

"The real problem is that widening Highway 101 is going to pretty much take up most of the space to put trees back in," said Petaluma Tree Committee liaison and City Councilmember Teresa Barrett. "So the tree committee will be asking Caltrans and the SCTA to set aside money for off-site tree mitigation to make up for the loss of the several thousand tress that have been, and will be, taken down."

After Petaluma officials questioned the Sonoma County Transportation Authority over how many trees Caltrans had removed during recent highway interchange construction, several county supervisors on a committee dedicated to highway landscaping projects called the Highway 101 Corridor Tree Committee, said they were looking into the numbers.

The county tree committee, which includes Petaluma's County Supervisor David Rabbitt, is scheduled to give its first report to the board of supervisors on Dec. 3.

"The committee is working toward finishing a landscape plan that will hopefully be approved by the SCTA board in early 2014," said James Cameron, deputy director of the SCTA.

In March, Petaluma's Tree Advisory Committee started asking both Caltrans and the SCTA how many trees had been removed during construction projects along Highway 101 through Petaluma. Though the Highway 101 projects were only supposed to remove between 700 and 900 trees, Petaluma's tree committee believes Caltrans has removed many more than it was expected to.

After several failed attempts at finding out how many trees had been cut down along Highway 101, the Tree Advisory Committee asked the Petaluma City Council to send a letter to the SCTA addressing their concerns. The council agreed and sent a letter to Rabbitt; SCTA representative and City Councilmember Mike Harris; and SCTA Executive Director Suzanne Smith in September.

Since then, Rabbitt said that he is hoping the county tree committee will be able locate some additional funding to replace trees in the Petaluma area.

"There are ways to leverage dollars, so once we have a handle on how many trees have been removed, we can start chasing down the landscaping funds," he said.

But Barrett pointed out that landscaping along Highway 101 is not scheduled to take place until after construction work is completed — something that Caltrans recently said is at least seven years away.

"I'm not expecting there to be much mitigation as a result of this county committee," said Barrett. "I think it's something we're going to have to constantly work for so that when money does come available, it goes to trees in our area."

The county tree committee is set to present its preliminary findings to the Board of Supervisors on Dec. 3 during its afternoon session, which begins at 2:30 p.m. in the board's chambers at 575 Administration Drive in Santa Rosa.

(Contact Janelle Wetzstein at janelle.wetzstein@arguscourier.com)