Jackson County

Workers cut live tree at Ocean Springs park, leave dead one standing

Ocean Springs attorney Robert Smith measures the tree the county cut at 26 inches diameter and 87 inches around. Workers were supposed to cut a dead tree, several yards to the north and agreed to leave this one and monitor it. They cut this one and left the dead tree standing on Monday.
Ocean Springs attorney Robert Smith measures the tree the county cut at 26 inches diameter and 87 inches around. Workers were supposed to cut a dead tree, several yards to the north and agreed to leave this one and monitor it. They cut this one and left the dead tree standing on Monday. klnelson@sunherald.com

It’s the kind of mistake that sends people into orbit, an Ocean Springs official said.

A county contractor on Friday cut down a live tree at the county Inner Harbor Park and left standing a dead tree.

The contractor told city officials on Monday, after the mistake was discovered, there may have been a mix up on how the trees were marked.

The mix up came down to two trees, but it originally involved four Live oaks at the harbor park. The county asked if it could cut all four. After much discussion, the hiring of an arborist and emails exchanged between a county supervisor, an attorney and the mayor of Ocean Springs, the county decided to cut two — one that was dead and one that was damaged by rot — and leave two that were healthy — one standing in water and one leaning.

The one tree that almost everyone agreed should be saved and given a chance to grow — the tree standing in water — was cut down along with the rotted one.

“Unbelievable,” said Ocean Springs attorney Robert Smith. He went to the site Monday to see for himself. “You can see by the stump, it was a perfectly healthy Live oak.”

The stump measured 26 inches across and 87 inches around.

County Supervisor Troy Ross told the Sun Herald he went to the park Friday to watch the trees being cut for himself, but it was raining so hard that the trees weren’t cut when he was there.

“They must have gotten back to it at the end of the day,” Ross said.

On Monday, they discovered the tree with the rot was cut, as it should have been, and the leaning tree was saved and trimmed up. But the tree standing in water was cut and the dead tree was still standing.

The only thing Ross could think might have happened is the flags on the trees were somehow moved.

During the initial discussions on Aug. 2, the city tree committee recommended the county be allowed to cut all four if they needed to and replace them with mature Live oaks to be planted elsewhere on the property. The city hired an arborist, however, who recommended they cut two and leave two.

Ultimately, the city aldermen voted to let the county decide, with a request that the county try and save the one tree standing in water and plant four new trees on the property.

Taking that into consideration, county Supervisor Ross decided on Aug. 2 that the county would cut two and work with the other two.

“We’ll give ‘em a chance,” Ross said on Aug. 2. He was willing to trim the leaning tree. About the one with the water around it, he said: “We’ll watch it. If it lives in the sand, we’ll leave it.”

That’s the one that was cut.

As far as a fine or any repercussions, the city has a tree ordinance with fines for cutting a protected tree, and a Live oak that size is protected. But the property belongs to the county, so there was a question Monday as to whether the city laws apply. A city official explained that with the county in this case, it may be more of a courtesy to adhere to the city tree ordinance.

Ross said the contractor for the $289,000 Inner Harbor Park improvement project, M&D Construction, opted not to cut the trees. He said, when M&D declined, the county hired McClain’s tree service.

Jackson County is doing extensive work at the park on the north side of the harbor with grants to create a recreational trail and living shoreline bank stabilization. Ramps, piers and walkways are being built and improved in the county park that includes playground equipment, tennis courts and boardwalks along the water.

The project is almost complete.

Mayor Connie Moran, who also advocated saving the tree standing in water, said Monday she talked with the contractor. She said which tree to cut must have been a judgment call made by someone at the site without all the details. “This is the kind of thing,” she said, “that drives people into orbit.”

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