Controversy continues concerning Front Beach live oak trees

Controversy continues to build in Ocean Springs concerning a vote to remove three protected live oak trees from a property on Front Beach.
Updated: Jun. 27, 2019 at 4:42 PM CDT
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OCEAN SPRINGS, Miss. (WLOX) - Controversy continues to build in Ocean Springs concerning a vote to remove three protected live oak trees from a property on Front Beach. The city’s tree protection committee granted approval to remove the trees earlier this month. Last week, the board of aldermen accepted the tree committee’s action.

Even with those decisions, the battle may not be over. We’ve been investigating the reasons for the possible removal of the trees.

The three live oaks that could be coming down are located at 209 Front Beach. Two large oaks are at the front of the property and a smaller oak is at the back. The property owner has an offer to sell the half-acre lot, contingent on removal of the trees. The prospective owner Debra Littlepage has said she can’t build the home she wants with the trees standing.

Some neighbors disagree, including Karen Stennis.

“There’s other ways to go about building a house on that property. There are many more options than cutting the trees down," she said.

Another, Ed Trehern, believes removing the trees sets a bad example.

“Well, I believe that Ocean Springs is built on its beauty and the trees, and I think that this would be a significant change, not only for the past but for the future," he said.

Littlepage did not want to be interviewed on camera, but said she’s hurt by the way she has been treated, saying she followed all the rules in asking for removal of the trees and the tree committee agreed.

“If they can demonstrate that they’re having an economic hardship, that’s one of the instances where trees can come down. And in this case, they’ve shown that they do have an economic hardship, and so the committee did recommend the trees come down," Mayor Shea Dobson explained.

Tree committee minutes mentioned nothing about economic hardship, instead noting the trees need to come down because they restrict all reasonable use of the property.

The decision leads to a deeper question for neighbors like Stennis.

“As we say, it’s a slippery slope. You start letting one person do it, and the next person that comes along is going to want to cut their trees and pretty soon we’re not going to have any oak trees in our city," she said

The mayor has an answer about that worry.

“I understand everyone’s perspective as far as a slippery slope or something like that. I think you have to take each case individually; you have to look at it case by case," Dobson said.

During a public hearing before the tree protection committee earlier this month, several arborists were on hand. Some said the trees were damaged and had to go. Others said they are fine and should stay. However, we decided to contact a professional arborist with no stake in the outcome for his expert opinion.

Tony Miller is a certified arborist with Cambium Tree Care. He estimated the two large trees to be about 60 years each, taking down notes about their conditions.

“Well, the trees need some help. Obviously some pruning. Structurally they’re sound. There’s a big cavity in one, and there’s some lightning damage that was caused many years back. Overall health and vigor of the trees, they’re fine. They’re are compartmentalizing and they’re sealing over well, and I don’t see any reason to recommend a removal," he said.

Removing trees never crossed Jaklyn Wrigley’s mind. Her family is building a home in the neighborhood and working to save her trees and build around them.

“When we thought about what we wanted to put here as our forever home, we spent a lot of time thinking how the trees fit into that equation," Wrigley said.

She said the value of trees can’t be counted.

“I don’t think you can put a dollars and cents value on something like mature trees on a piece of property. Because what they add speaks louder than what money can say," she said.

Most of the neighbors we spoke with said they plan to file an appeal of the tree committee’s vote to remove the trees to circuit court. The deadline to do so is mid-July.

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