Stormwater Project Puts Strain On Live Oaks

Heavy equipment engines groaned to the “beep-beep-beep” of bulldozers in reverse Tuesday afternoon, as mammoth concrete culvert pipe sections sat in the shade of 300-year-old live oaks.


Posted: Wednesday, December 9, 2015 12:00 am

By LARRY HOBBS The Brunswick News

Amid this backdrop near Gascoigne Bluff on St. Simons Island, county engineer Paul Andrews explained what steps were taken to protect the stately oaks from the construction project to run a stormwater drainage system through the middle of them. His conclusion after meeting onsite with a group of women concerned for the welfare of the island’s trees?

Not enough.

“You’re right. They’re starting to impact this area and it should be cleaned up,” Andrews said. “It should have been better managed up front, and we’ll get that squared away.”

He assured the women that steps would be taken by week’s end to ensure greater protection of the trees from the construction project, which is laying a stormwater drainage system for the
nearby Mariners Landing townhome development.

“I’m going to expect them to have it done by Friday,” Andrews said.

The four women represented the newly-formed Golden Isles Foundation for Trees (GIFT), which is committed to preserving and protecting the community’s tree canopy. Andrews agreed to meet
them onsite after they voiced concerns Monday that the old oaks were endangered by the project.

The hulking concrete culvert pieces resting so close the trees put a strain on the oaks’ shallow root system, said Miriam Lancaster, a retired attorney.

Sandy Turbidy said the trees needed at least a 14-foot buffer from the construction process, particularly the heavy equipment and the digging. This was the safe distance related to her by
University of Georgia horticulturist Kim Coder.

GIFT members Kay Cantrell and Jan Lemasters agreed with Turbidy and Lancaster that bulldozers and other mobile heavy equipment should keep a safe distance from the trees. Cantrell is a
former president of the Georgia Homebuilders Association, and Lemasters is a retired college professor.

Andrews told them that, come Friday, the culvert pieces will be relocated from underneath the trees. He added that bright orange polymer mesh fencing will be placed around the live oaks near the
path of the drainage project for further protection from the construction process.

“Any which way it needs to be worked out,” Andrews said. “It’s counterproductive to put stuff on top of trees you’re trying to protect. I’ll get them to relocate this stuff.”

The drainage system will serve the long-delayed Mariners Landing development at the corner of Sea Island and Hamilton roads. The development drew howls of complaints from residents after
the site for the 125-unit project was cleared of trees and vegetation in the spring and sat idle all summer. The project was delayed because the developer could not get the governmental permitting needed to proceed.

Resident complaints that it was an eyesore helped spur a new county law which prevents developers from breaking ground until all the necessary permitting is acquired.

Permitting for the drainage system was among the issues holding up the project, which finally got approval from the county commission to proceed last month. The stormwater drainage line will
cross Arthur J. Moore Drive on county-owned land. It will slant in front of the historically-preserved Hamilton Plantation tabby slave cabins, then follow the path of an unpaved county service road to the marsh. It will run alongside the Strickland Auditorium at Epworth by the Sea.

The stormwater path was established in part to ensure that no live oaks were damaged in the construction process.  Lemasters said the project should have come before the county’s Tree Advisory
Board. Andrews conceded it would have been a good idea to meet with the construction contractor in advance of breaking ground to set some protective guidelines.

“It’s something that should be done,” he said.

Turbidy and the others from GIFT will be watching Friday, to see if the county took the protective steps they discussed with Andrews.

“I am watching those big trucks going over those tree roots the whole time we’re talking,” she said. “And I’m thinking, it’s crazy. These people know what to do ahead of time, we don’t want those big pieces so close to the trees. If we did one thing today that was good, it was to get those trees barricaded so we don’t have those kind of problems.”