Harrison County

Will a new hotel hurt this ‘monster’ Live oak? Officials say no.

This Live oak is registered with the Societe des Arbres but that doesn’t offer the protection that the city tree ordinance offers.
This Live oak is registered with the Societe des Arbres but that doesn’t offer the protection that the city tree ordinance offers. klnelson@sunherald.com

The Sun Herald got a call this week from a Pascagoula man who was worried about a huge, old Live oak he discovered tucked away on a vacant lot near the beach in Biloxi.

He and his wife had gone through a string of medical scares and were taking the time to celebrate their anniversary at the Double Tree near the I-110 loop. Turning around at the hotel parking lot off Hopkins Boulevard, they drove onto the property opposite the hotel and found a tree that took their breath away and embedded itself in their hearts.

It’s too far back on the lot to see from U.S. 90, and it’s hidden among other big Live oaks.

He said he remembered it being three stories tall and pristine. The uncut Live oak limbs spread out to a 150-foot diameter. Passing the site recently, he noticed black construction fencing around the lot and called.

“It’s more awesome than any oak tree I’ve seen anywhere,” he said. “It would just be a crime if they destroy that tree. I feel so passionate, that I’d go chain myself to it. It’s like the sequoias.”

Biloxi spokesman Vincent Creel described it as “massive.” City Arborist Eric Nolan called it “an absolute monster.”

Pictures don’t do it justice.

Answering the phone number on a lot for sale next door to it, John Kavanagh said the tree is near the north property line and he was worried too.

“Even with the tree ordinance in place, developers seem to have a way around it,” he said.

He said, “in our community, it’s in our best interest” to make sure trees like this are protected. Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich also expressed interest in protecting the tree, and sent Creel to take pictures of it, Creel said.

What’s coming to the lot is 66 suites and a swimming pool — a multi-story LaQuinta Inn at 950 Beach Boulevard.

The site plan is done and Nolan said three smaller trees on the lot will be cut so the four-story hotel can be built as close to the highway as possible and leave room on the back of the lot for the ancient oak. Two other large oaks will be preserved.

According to the site plan, which he expects the developers to follow, the massive oak will have paving three-quarters of the way around it, mostly on old foundations and driveways that already exist near the tree from the homestead that had been there.

The hotel contractors agreed to use an existing driveway in order to keep the root systems on the trees as undisturbed as possible.

The monster tree will lose the large lower limb to the west, or left side in the picture, that is at least 15 inches in diameter.

The broken pavement that is around it now, where grass is growing up through the cracks, will be paved over solid. Pavement will not go right up to the tree trunk.

Nolan said he is satisfied with the compromises in favor of this tree.

“Losing a limb on a tree as not as crucial to me as impacting the root system. That’s when all things spin out of control,” he said. “As long as we keep the root damage to a minimum, we’re in good shape.”

Roots will cross under the pavement and find an area for more water and air, he said.

And when the contractor for LaQuinta moves onto the site to start work, Nolan said he will be there.