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During tough economic times, the word “free” rarely goes unnoticed, but in a quiet corner, neatly tucked away under the Forestry page of the City of Fort Worth’s website, resides one seemingly odd phrase: Free Trees.

Even in times of economic prosperity, Fort Worth’s push to promote green growth within the city would likely be a bargain. It’s a deal residents of the 109, and surrounding areas, intend to take advantage of.

Troy Tuomey, president of the 109’s Overton West Neighborhood Association, said his neighborhood has partnered with Overton Park homeowners to complete a “median beautification project.” The two groups of residents are nearing the end of planning for a project to plant trees in a section of median on Hulen Street between Ranch View and Briarhaven roads.

Initial funding for the project will come from XTO Energy. That’s the same company, Tuomey said, with which many Overton-area homeowners signed gas drilling leases in 2008.

“When we were talking with [XTO], we asked for some funding for a community beautification project,” Tuomey said.

After the neighborhoods negotiated with company representatives two years ago, XTO agreed to pay up to $50,000 for local beautification efforts, Tuomey said.

The company is still on board with its original financial commitment to the project, he said.

Before submitting the median beautification plan to XTO, the neighborhoods considered doing a project in the Overton park recreational area, which is different from the neighborhood of the same name, he said. In the end, Tuomey said, the association members chose to pursue the roadway project because it was an initiative that “would benefit the neighborhoods on a joint basis.”

$50,000 designated for project

Tuomey, an insurance businessman, compared the energy company’s agreement to pay for area beautification to the kind of work he does in his day job. When the spending limit was set, just like it would be on an insurance policy, XTO would not have to pay out more than the neighborhoods spend on the project in the future, he said. Although $50,000 has been designated, any leftover money will not go to the neighborhood associations but will be retained by XTO.

After making more specific plans with a landscape architect and receiving approval for trees from the Tree Grant Program, Tuomey said the neighborhood associations are aiming to get the plants in the ground by February 2011. Tuomey, who joked that he was “no arborist,” said this timing is supposed to increase the trees’ chance of survival before the hot summer months arrive.

Robert Dellamura, president of the Overton Park Neighborhood Association, said the committee members in charge of the project used a recently-completed median and sidewalk extension on Arborlawn Drive as inspiration. The top priority for the median design was to use as many native plants as possible, he said.

“One of the recommendations, obviously, was to keep the landscaping native, in other words, a xeriscape — meaning zero maintenance and zero [or] low water usage,” Dellamura said.

Dellamura said the committee considered information from the Forestry Section of the Parks and Community Service Department when formulating the final design.

“There’s a scorecard that actually goes with the Tree Grant Program — if you look at the criteria of the scorecard, we tried to support the criteria that would enable us to gain a higher mark,” Dellamura said.

Out of seven plant species listed in the neighborhoods’ design plan, Dellamura said he hopes the grant will provide them with Red Oak, Live Oak and Cedar Elm trees. In addition to the plants needed, the project includes provisions for “irrigation, bedding and neighborhood signage,” he said.

A history of sweltering summertime temperatures in North Texas wasn’t the only thing that factored into the approval of funding for the median project: Tuomey said XTO’s decision was part of the lease signing process.

Funds designated for maintenance

“As part of their good-faith effort to get us to move forward on the negotiation, they agreed to help fund [the] community beautification project,” Tuomey said.

The fact that money would be put toward community improvement efforts was not a stipulation in the lease contract itself, Tuomey said. Instead, XTO issued a letter to the two groups of homeowners informing them of the agreement after one had been reached. The process of negotiating for these terms spanned a 9-month period, he said.

Another bonus to come out of the talks with XTO was a $10,000 sum given to each of the two neighborhood associations involved, Overton West and Overton Park. Toumey said the groups have already received these funds and, speaking for Overton West, that his neighborhood plans to use the money to maintain the trees and plants in the median.

“We’re trying to be good stewards of the funds and not spend everything on getting something done and then not being able to take care of it. That’s not our goal,” he said.

Tuomey said that outside of approving funding figures for the project, XTO representatives were not involved with the planning and design of the space on Hulen Street.

Rachael L. Moore, the upstream public and government affairs representative for Exxon Mobil Corp., which now owns XTO, wrote in an e-mail that it was company practice not to comment on “the details of business discussions or agreements.”

No specific dollar amounts for the Overton-area project are currently available.