With the felling of three live oak trees at a downtown intersection, the City of Mobile has broken a promise made to a group of concerned citizens, as progress continues on the multimillion-dollar rehabilitation of Broad Street.
Bill Boswell, a representative of Government Street Collaborative, a consortium of Downtown and Midtown neighborhoods, told Mobile City Council members that the three historic trees removed at the intersection of Government and Broad streets, just east of east of Government Street United Methodist Church, were among 87 oak trees the city told the group in 2019 it would save, as the multi-year project progressed.
“The city broke a promise and cut down those three trees,” Boswell said. “We ask in the future that the city establish an open line of communication with the Government Street Collaborative and others and replace every downed live oak tree with three trees in a similar area.”
Boswell also asked the city to involve the Mobile Tree Commission more when reviewing tree removal along the project. He asked the councilors to fill the vacancies in the commission.
Most frustrating for Boswell and the members of the collaboration is the lack of communication with the city when tree cutting was discussed. The city met with concerned members earlier in June, but the group got no response when a final decision was made to cut down the trees.
“The city told us the trees had to do this, but they never communicated with us beyond that,” Boswell said. “They ignored our concerns and, pardon my French, it pissed us off.”
In response to Boswell, Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s chief of staff, James Barber, said the failure to follow up with the collaboration was his fault, but he also defended the decision to cut down the trees because workers at the Broad Street project discovered root systems. of the three trees in question were more extensive than originally believed.
“We had hydro-excavation done to expose the root systems,” Barber said. “Peter Toler, the town arborist, and other arborists were brought in and although most of the trees could be saved, three could not.”
In the case of the three felled trees, Barber said, the root systems of all three extended 12 to 14 feet beyond their bases.
District 2 Councilman William Carroll, who represents the downtown area, said at a pre-conference meeting that he had been inundated with calls from many residents concerned about tree removal. He asked the administration to better inform the public and councilors next time, as well as develop a plan to replace trees lost due to ongoing construction.
At the council meeting, Barber told Carroll that the city currently has a “right tree, right place” program that it uses to replace the trees it cuts down.
Following the meeting, Boswell said his main concern was with the remaining trees in the path of the project to add new curbs, gutters and bike lanes along South Broad Street towards the Brookely Aeroplex.
“We have very large heritage live oak trees and I can’t see how a four-lane road with a bike path can go down without trees falling,” he said. “What happened to the trees east of The United Methodist Church is what we fear is happening with other trees.”
Boswell supports plans to add bike lanes to Broad Street, but said there are better ways to add them. For example, he said, the city could build bike lanes from Government Street at Church Street to the roundabout at Canal and Broad streets without disturbing more trees.
Overall, Boswell said he was “impressed” with Stimpson’s attempt to save the trees in 2019, but the city should now rebuild trust with the band going forward.