Jackson County

Washington Avenue oak hit, damaged in Ocean Springs

This Live oak tree on Washington Avenue in downtown Ocean Springs lost a major limb this month, apparently when a big truck tried to turn a corner on DeSoto Street.
This Live oak tree on Washington Avenue in downtown Ocean Springs lost a major limb this month, apparently when a big truck tried to turn a corner on DeSoto Street. klnelson@sunherald.com

A limb on one of the downtown Washington Avenue Live oaks was badly damaged this month.

The round scar that’s left is as big as a serving platter.

A worker at a neighboring business said, “An early truck must have come through and hit it, which was bound to happen. A crew came the next day and sawed parts of it off.”

City Building Official Hilliard Fountain said, “We can only assume it was a delivery truck.”

The trucks wind through the narrow downtown streets, making deliveries to restaurants and businesses. This one likely was turning onto Washington or off Washington onto DeSoto Street. Damage like that is more likely to happen with an inexperienced driver or one who isn’t paying attention, Fountain said.

He said the large oaks are valuable to the city. They are a big reason downtown is so attractive.

The tree that was hit is in the first downtown block. The limb had been one that came across DeSoto between the power lines and telephone wires and graced the front of Lemon-Mohler Insurance.

The value of a tree

The Public Works Department found that a large chunk of the tree had been knocked off. Fountain and a member of the tree committee responded right away and called an arborist. The damaged limb was deemed a public-safety issue and removed. The arborist approved the work done by McClain Tree Service.

The limb was hollow and so is part of the tree, probably from lightning damage in the 1970s, Fountain said.

“We don’t know who hit (the branch),” he said. “We don’t have cameras downtown. All we found was the piece of a limb left in the road.”

It begs the question of whether the city has these trees insured. It doesn’t.

What happens when you damage one?

“You have to catch the people,” Fountain said, cite them for damage to public property and take them to court for a judge to set the fine. “The judge would have to determine the value. We have no way of assessing a fine.”

There is a way to technically set a value on a downtown Ocean Springs Live oak using a state book that lists values based on the size and condition of a tree, Fountain said. “But these (trees) are special — that’s why you try to protect them as best you can.

“But with all these delivery trucks and all these restaurants ....”

Several issues

He said the city has “several issues ... a building to the east of the tree, on DeSoto, had a power line pulled down by one of those trucks last year.”

But to offload supplies and merchandise and haul them in on a smaller truck would cause additional expense to the businesses, he said.

By city law, the tree canopy should be 13.5 feet or higher. A lot of trees around town have lower limbs.

“If you have one you want to keep lower, you mitigate with signs and warnings,” Fountain said. “Still, people not paying attention will whack the heck out of these. We try to put signs up. We try to protect them.

“If you trim them, you catch heck for that. If you don’t, they grow. You can’t win. You mitigate the hazard the best you can, day to day.”