Long-planned road expansions and drainage work by the Havensight Mall entrance were changed to save as many trees as possible, but five ancient mahogany trees are in the path of expansions and must be cut, Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls said Monday.
More than a dozen demonstrators and hundreds more pedestrians and drivers protested the tree removal in front of the Havensight Mall last Thursday, when environmentally-minded residents got word of plans for the trees’ imminent removal. Opponents of the plan expressed frustration at the loss of irreplaceable natural and aesthetic assets like the trees, and Sen. Craig Barshinger urged Public Works to put a hold on the project.
Reached by phone Monday night, Smalls said the road and drainage work "is a critical project for the territory," and gave no indication there was any chance the trees could be saved.
"We are very excited about this," Smalls said, adding that there’s flooding in the Havensight area. “Part of this project will widen the road and add new drainage structures," he said.
Widening the road is also meant to help the flow of traffic in a congested area, Public Works officials have said.
Several of the trees are already stressed and unhealthy, but that was a secondary consideration, and the road work is the reason the trees are slated to be removed, according to Smalls.
Public Works tried to avoid cutting trees where possible, Smalls said. "We went in and identified how we can shift road to save trees."
"We’re really trying to surgically get in and around the trees and maintain as many as possible,” he said. “The fact that some of these trees are stressed could pose a threat to the motoring and pedestrian public."
Some of the mahogany trees in the area are within the future roadway median, and will remain there, but five trees fall outside that median, and are in the actual path of the roadway expansion, the commissioner said.
Public Works is aware of the concerns in the community about the trees, Smalls said, adding that the department plans to work with the community to get more information out on what Public Works is doing and why.