COLLIER COUNTY — It’s a project that could save taxpayers loads of money by demonstrating the use of Florida friendly trees and shrubs in road medians.
The enormous expenses associated with median beautification in Collier County cities and towns could be radically slashed if municipalities embrace a four-phase demonstration planting project now in full swing.
It’s called Project Road Greenscape, and is aimed at introducing plants that use less water, incur lower initial planting costs and drastically lower maintenance and replacement costs. It could also serve as an example for local homeowners looking for landscaping material.
The initiative is a cooperative effort between the non-profit Water Symposium of Florida and the Big Cypress Basin, the local office of South Florida Water Management District.
First example in place was a portion of median at the Marco Island city complex, while a section of median along Broadway in Everglades City was due for completion today.
Next up: Immokalee and Golden Gate.
On hand two weeks ago in Everglades City were ecological consultant Michael Ramsey of Ramsey Inc., and environmental horticulture specialist Tim Nance of GroTechnics.
“The idea is to combine ecological horticulture and landscape architecture to come up with a better configuration,” Ramsey said.
Straight into the mix came 15 sabal palms, each weighing 2,100 pounds.
“Once established, they’re probably one of the hardiest tree plants you could find,” Ramsey said. “After that, you don’t have to tend to them at all.”
At ground level of the median, which is in a highly-visible area near Everglades City Hall, the horticultural team opted for serenoa repens, or saw palmetto, because it can be maintained without shearing, forms a self-weeding mass and requires almost no watering.
And, Ramsey said, reaction from the sometimes skittish Everglades City residents — who passionately guard their culture and heritage — has already been favorable.
“Plenty of people have stopped to ask questions,” Ramsey said. “When we tell them, they like the concept. They don’t mind trying something new like this.”
Ramsey described the demonstration projects as templates that could be incorporated into city planning, reducing water and fertilizer use, and thus costing less as well as promoting truly greener landscaping.
Various city landscaping contractors could stand to lose some revenue, Ramsey said, “but there’s always a good side and a bad side for somebody.”
Ironically, he said, there is no standard for landscaping in general.
A voluntary compliance process earns “green building” status, but there’s simply nothing similar in the landscaping world.
“Industry drives it without a conservation content,” he said. “The more color, the more cost. That’s it.”
Nance said landscaping is generally put in by municipalities solely with the aim of increasing property values.
“These municipalities and institutions have not considered sustainability and cost as a component,” Nance said. “That reflects back directly on water use, the use of nutrients in the landscape, and how we’re going to protect our water resources.”
That, he said, applied particularly to communities such as Everglades City and Marco Island and their myriad estuaries.
“We’re trying to blend everything together to find something that’s best management practice ... and enhances our environment,” Nance said.
Costs, Ramsey said, are covered by grants from the South Florida Water Management District, provided the requirements for the “educational component” are met.
The three projects will be monitored in terms of maintenance and costs for the next two years, with a final report due in 2013.
In a recent report, Big Cypress Basin spokeswoman Lisa Koehler said the county’s 2010 budget estimates between $40,000 and $57,000 per mile of landscape median costs.
Water usage runs around 160 million gallons, with half a million gallons likely when all (traditional) medians are landscaped,” she wrote.
“Landscaped areas are the first line of defense for preserving Florida’s environment,” she wrote. “The health of Florida’s estuaries, rivers, lakes, springs and aquifers depends partly on how we landscape and maintain our yards and roadway medians.”