Tree protection ordinance doesn't always save protected trees

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Two development projects in Biloxi will require the removal of 80 protected trees. On Thursday, the planning commission approved the necessary tree permits for the building of the Biloxi baseball stadium downtown and a Walmart Neighborhood Market on Pass Road.

The action left some residents wondering: What about the city's tree protection ordinance?

The reality is, just because certain trees may be a "protected" species, developers can still cut them down.

Biloxi received its "Tree City" designation nearly 30 years ago. Live oaks are among the species on the city's protected list.

With the ballpark getting the okay to remove 19 protected trees, and the Walmart project given the go ahead to cut down 61 more, some folks are concerned.

"This is madness," said tree committee member Arlene Canaan.

"We have got to revise this tree ordinance, and make our city beautiful where the developers come here, they know what to expect and what to plan around those trees. We are going to be nothing but concrete in the City of Biloxi if this keeps up."

City arborist Eric Nolan is often the man in the middle between developers and conservationists.

"We work with developers to save the best trees on the site," said Nolan.

"If the tree's no good, we don't want to save it. But if the tree's in a good spot, in a good situation, and it's feasible to save it, we absolutely help them come to that end in the development and save the tree."

There may be some confusion by the public about the city's tree protection ordinance. While that ordinance does designate certain species of trees as protected, such as live oaks, it doesn't mean those protected trees can never be cut down.

In fact, the ordinance outlines the process by which a developer can get a tree permit and cut down protected trees that may be hindering a development.

"Protection is an interesting thing. It makes the developer come to the table and negotiate for his development. Where otherwise he would just hire a backhoe and go out there and take down what he wants and build his project," said Nolan.

The planning commission can attach certain requirements when granting those tree permits.

In the case of both the ballpark and the neighborhood market, planning commissioners said the developers must replace every tree they remove with a new tree at least four inches in diameter.

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