Jackson County

Huge oak branches could fall over Ocean Springs’ Washington Avenue

The Ocean Springs Board of Aldermen voted Jan. 3 to evaluate the health of 75 trees along Washington Avenue.
The Ocean Springs Board of Aldermen voted Jan. 3 to evaluate the health of 75 trees along Washington Avenue. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com File

Before they approve anything major, aldermen have asked for a digitally altered picture of the downtown Lovelace oak so they can see what it would look like trimmed.

They also want a cost estimate, which city workers say may not be as much as originally expected.

More than one tree expert has recommended trimming the Live oak to take some of the weight off the decayed center.

As a precaution, the city has moved a city bench from beneath the tree to keep anyone sitting on it to be in the path of a falling limb.

Aldermen were told two weeks ago there’s a real possibility, if nothing is done, one of the big limbs on the west side of the tree might fail and fall. The wood that supports the limb is rotting.

No one is recommending the tree be removed, even though the center is mostly hollow.

Jim Heinzel, a construction manager and consultant, told the city in a letter, “the hazard of a tree with heart rot is commonly overrated. A tree can stand for decades, even though hollow or showing rot ...”

Tree expert Ben Kahlmus warned the city, however, if branches of that tree failed, they would involve “large tree parts” and the impact to anything or anyone that happens to be near the tree “could result in serious personal injury.”

Kahlmus set the tree’s overall risk rating at “moderate.”

It will be up to the Board of Aldermen to decide the amount of risk the city is willing to take.

The location of the tree — on Washington Avenue at the intersection of Government Street — is one of the busiest streets and sidewalks in the city, aldermen said.

City Building Official Hilliard Fountain said he would make a proposal, complete with cost estimates and the picture of what a trimmed Lovelace oak would look like, to the aldermen at their Feb. 7 meeting.

He said the idea is to trim some of the weight off the crown, remove the limb that is hazardous, treat the roots with aeration and monitor the tree.

Trimming and treating can happen quickly if aldermen approve, Fountain said, but they officials to be careful not to trim more than 20 percent, which could shock the tree.