Courthouse trees to be chopped

By Vicki Hyatt | Feb 19, 2013
Photo by: Vicki Hyatt Eleven of 12 trees on the courthouse lawn will be removed because of their extensive damage. Only the red spruce in the center will be spared.

A report showing that seven of the 11 trees on the Haywood County courthouse lawn pose a high risk to life or property provided commissioners with the impetus they needed to take action.

At their Monday meeting, county commissioners voted to remove the trees and replace them with appropriate landscaping. Wood from the property will be donated to a charitable organization.

In the past, the courthouse tree removal has been a contentious issue, bringing a passionate group of supporters to meetings. One of those in past years was Commission Vice Chairman Kirk Kirkpatrick's grandmother.

His vote to cut down the trees is something she wouldn't like, Kirkpatrick predicted, and he even made a last-ditch effort to save tree No. 11. This tree was identified in the report as a sugar maple between the Historic Courthouse and the Justice Center. The tree has a high hazard rating, but since it is a tree that's away from the street front and one few people walk under, he said it wouldn't hurt to consider saving it.

"I'm looking out the window and it's talking to me," Kirkpatrick said with a grin.

He made a motion for the tree to be spared, “just for my grandmother.” Commissioner Bill Upton seconded the motion, but the motion failed.

The courthouse "Tree Health and Safety Analysis" report was prepared by certified arborist Bill Leatherwood. Of the 12 trees included in the study, 11 were sugar maples and the last was a red spruce. It is the tree located nearest to property fronting Depot Street and was the only tree with a "low" risk assessment. This tree is the only one on the courthouse property that will be preserved.

Leatherwood's report estimates the six maple trees in the front courthouse lawn were planted in the early 1970s and pegs the age of the other trees at between 80 and 100 years old.

"All of the maples have serious structural problems," the report states. "The combination of weak branch unions, decay and cracks places several of these trees in a high risk category to life and property within the surrounding environment. ... Other than the spruce, the overall health and safety conditions of all these trees is poor to severe."

The report ruled out pruning as a way to correct the damage because internal decay would quickly lead to other problems.

"Trees, like humans, have an expected life span," the report states. "The overall neglect to properly maintain these trees has shortened this and now makes it necessary to remove them and start over."

In his summary, Leatherwood said he considered himself as "somewhat of a tree hugger," with a passion to diagnose and treat problems in older and historic trees.

He said removing public and historic trees is an emotional issue, and is especially true in his case where his ancestors many years in public office in the county.

"Replacing these trees doesn't stop the history of maples on the courthouse lawn," he wrote. "It only allows it to continue in a safe and healthier environment."

In addition to cutting the trees, the stumps beneath the ground will be ground to 18 inches below the topsoil line.

County Manager Marty Stamey said the county maintenance crew would handle most of the labor.

In 2007, the board of commissioners voted to have a landscape plan drawn up as part of the justice center construction. The plan was tailored to tie in landscaping for both buildings.

Mary Ann Enloe, who was a commissioner at the time, adamantly opposed cutting down the trees.

"Those trees can come down as my hearse rolls on by," she was later quoted as saying.

After seeing the report, Enloe has had a change of heart and said she won't oppose the action.


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