The State House in Annapolis enshrines tradition, so the abrupt disappearance of the trees flanking its entrance provided a jarring welcome to lawmakers returning here Wednesday.
Freshly cut stumps stood where a dozen trees used to line Lawyers Mall.
“My heart broke when I noticed,” said Del. Eric Bromwell, a Baltimore County Democrat who started coming to the capital as a child when his father was a lawmaker. “I grew up with those trees.”
The Department of General Services cut them down in order to repair a leaking steam pipe that was directly beneath them, Gov. Larry Hogan’s spokesman Doug Mayer said.
Without the crab apple trees, which flower later in the session as spring arrives, the landscape now features three black vertical pipes billowing steam.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who has been a lawmaker since 1975 — long before the trees were planted — lamented that he wasn’t fully briefed on why tree removal was absolutely necessary before it happened.
The trees, he said, were a key part of the aesthetic of the memorial to the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Besides that, he said, they provided shade for schoolchildren lunching in front of the State House.
“It’s pretty upsetting,” Miller said. “It ruins the landscape of the State House.”
Nick Cavey, a spokesman for the Department of General Services, said the complex’s 30-year-old heating system “was in dire shape and about to completely fail.”
Cavey said cutting the trees down was necessary to access a series of steam distribution lines and vaults underneath Lawyers Mall, and the presiding officers’ staff were emailed details about the project before it occurred.
The broader, $7.5 million project to replace the steam distribution system has been in state construction plans since 2013, Cavey said. He added that the state is evaluating what to plant at Lawyers Mall in the spring.
Miller vowed that the trees will be replanted soon. “We’ll re-landscape that no later than spring,” he said.