• Hazardous tree problem gets attention of some commissioners

    By: TOM CORWIN, Augusta Chronicle

    Updated:
    AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) - Marilyn Jones has a problem with the city of Augusta that is literally hanging over her head.

    "You see that limb?" she said in her backyard on Murphy Street while pointing to a giant branch overhead from a massive oak tree on the city right of way on Bransford Avenue. "It is going right over my house."

    A big limb from the tree fell recently and punched a hole through the siding on her home, and Jones fears the big branches over her roof will do worse.

    "I hate to get it cut down, but I've got to," she said.

    Her plea to the city for help has gotten the attention of some Augusta Commission members who want the city to get serious about removing hazardous trees and recognize the need to fund it. Commissioner Mary Davis said the 2014 ice storm, which felled many large branches and trees and damaged properties across the city, showed her that many large trees are problems waiting to happen.

    "A lot of the large oaks have outlasted their time throughout Augusta," she said.

    That point came home a few weeks ago when part of a large tree on Walton Way fell on a driver near Monte Sano Avenue.

    "It's just a miracle that individual survived," she said, noting that Savannah, Ga., was sued after a similar incident killed someone.

    Augusta Engineering Director Hameed Malik said the city has 84 trees identified as hazardous. When a complaint comes in or a city worker notices a potential problem, the department's tree operation manager, who is a certified arborist, goes out and makes an assessment, he said. If it needs to be removed, the city first tries to do it in-house, but resources are very limited, Malik said.

    "We have one three-man crew to cover the entire county," he said.

    The city also has two contractors and tries to get trees removed going through that process, which can take at least 30 days and up to 60 at times, Malik said. The tree on Walton Way had already been marked for removal, and the city was in the process of getting a contractor to start working the area, which is now underway, he said.

    The city only has about $35,000 annually from stormwater funds dedicated to tree work and could use more, Malik said. The city got $1 million from special purpose local option sales tax 6 but spent that in one year, he said.

    At other times, the city can try to incorporate tree work as part of a larger road project, such as those funded through the Transportation Investment Act, Malik said. Davis said she would like to see a quicker process, and she and others plan to make it a priority as the city begins its budgeting process for next year.

    "The fact is, Engineering doesn't have adequate funds to quickly take down trees that have been deemed hazardous, and we need to address that issue," she said. Fortunately, "there seems to be a consensus to consider finding the funds necessary to make this happen."

    With an average of $2,500 a tree - although some run as much as $6,000 - it would take about $300,000 to clear all of the identified hazardous trees, Malik said. The city as well as the Georgia Department of Transportation have been pruning and cutting limbs along major roads to eliminate overhanging branches that could fall, he said.

    "It looks a lot better aesthetically, and hopefully if something fell it wouldn't reach" the road, Malik said.

    Commissioner Marion Williams said the city should get more serious about removing trees despite the objections of some.

    "The tree huggers don't want you to cut it down," he said. "You have to find another tree to hug."

    Commissioner Brandon Garrett, who said he has had "quite a few incidents" with hazardous trees in his District 8, said the city should look at setting up a separate line item in the budget for funding to address the issue.

    "If we can take the preventive measures to take care of that, we definitely need to be proactive," he said.

    Standing in her backyard, Jones watched as a crew with a dump truck and bucket lift parked across the street, then got to work on a big tree nearby. She looked up again at the giant oak, probably as old as her 102-year-old house, and at the limbs hanging over her.

    "It's not much," she said, looking at the house dwarfed underneath, "but it's mine."

    ___

    Information from: The Augusta Chronicle , http://www.augustachronicle.com

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