Jackson County

Ocean Springs assessing damage to its prized Live oak canopy

This ancient Live oak on Washington Avenue in Ocean Springs is so rotted it has a hole through it. The Board of Aldermen voted Tuesday to evaluate the health of 75 trees along the avenue.
This ancient Live oak on Washington Avenue in Ocean Springs is so rotted it has a hole through it. The Board of Aldermen voted Tuesday to evaluate the health of 75 trees along the avenue. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com

When the city building official told aldermen one of the primary Live oaks on Washington Avenue was so rotted in one spot he could put his fist through it, they voted to take action.

Alderman Chic Cody suggested they consider it an emergency and moved the city find the $3,100 the Building Department needs to have all 75 of the Live oaks assessed from U.S. 90 to Calhoun Avenue.

The Live oak canopy creates an ambiance that makes downtown attractive to shoppers who walk from store to store. Aldermen and Mayor Connie Moran agree it needs protection.

It’s been a few years since the city has assessed the canopy, however, and tree expert Ben Kahlmus said he has seen signs of decay on a number of trees. He is one of two tree-preservation consultants being brought in to assess the oak at Lovelace Pharmacy at Washington Avenue and Government Street that has the critical rot.

A city employee noticed the decay last month when he was hanging lighted Christmas snowflakes on the downtown oaks.

Kahlmus said it appears a major branch of the tree was cut years ago and never healed completely. Decay started at the cut and went all the way down to the root structure. If a branch isn’t trimmed correctly, Kahlmus said, moisture, rot and insects get into the tree. He said it could have happened more than 20 years ago.

Cody said he noticed a problem with that tree before.

“I think it’s the oldest tree in downtown Ocean Springs,” Cody said. “It’s in all the pictures of downtown from the 1800s. It was here before Ocean Springs was incorporated.”

He said what has been discussed is cutting some of the limbs to take the weight off the trunk, so the huge old Live oak won’t split and be lost.

Kahlmus said he will climb it this week to get a better assessment.

I think it’s the oldest tree in downtown Ocean Springs.

Alderman Chic Cody

“We need to determine if the structural stability is strong enough to support the weight of it,” he said.

Two trees down, there’s a cut limb so big and rotten that a family of kittens are able to hide inside it. The kittens can go so deep that firefighters called to the tree around Christmas couldn’t get to them.

Kahlmus said there also are scars from big delivery trucks hitting the overhanging branches through the years.

“Decay sets in,” he said.

The plan for the tree assessment will include what to do to keep the trees as healthy as possible.

City Building official Hilliard Fountain said the city hasn’t had the trees evaluated for three or four years.

His department has spent money recently trimming trees in subdivisions in other parts of town, so it will help that aldermen decided to find an independent source to evaluate the downtown Live oaks.

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