Post Hurricane Tree Removal Deadline Looms

A crew with Prince and Son Tree Specialists left Georgia right after Hurricane Katrina hit south Mississippi. The tree removal experts have spent 17 months cutting apart damaged tree limbs.

The foreman of a crew working in Gulfport's Bayou View neighborhood Tuesday said, "We cut 25 in a day's time. And that's a good day."

One of those 25 trees was in Emile Robicheaux's back yard. Robicheaux said the tree being removed "is the only one back there that's dead. We've got a lot of pieces missing. But that one is dead."

It also posed a safety risk to his Gulfport neighbors. So Robicheaux signed a right of entry form. That authorized the Prince and Son team to enter the yard, and chop down the tree.

"I don't know how we'd get it out if they wouldn't be doing it for us," Robicheaux said.

Bill Powell is Gulfport's City Engineer.

"We now have authority to remove all those dangerous trees, not only from the city right of ways, but also from private property," said Powell.

His office coordinates the dead tree removal program.

"We're still within that process, trying to get approval as to which standing dead trees are approved to be removed by FEMA and MEMA," Powell said.

Here's the dilemma. Cities and counties across the coast have until February 28, 2007 to get FEMA to pick up the tab for dead tree removal projects. Yet, with just a month remaining, there are plenty of homeowners who qualify for the program, but they haven't filled out right of entry forms.

"I don't see how we can possibly meet the deadline with all the trees that we have remaining in the city," said Powell.

As he watched from his porch, Emile Robicheaux felt fortunate his tree came down before the February 28 deadline.

"Very fortunate. We're extremely glad to get it done," he said.

According to two different mayors, MEMA has requested a dead tree removal extension. However, a FEMA spokesperson says her agency hasn't heard about the request. So for now, FEMA will only pay for the removal of dead trees until February 28.