VIDEO: Hilton Head residents fight to save decaying oak tree

tbarton@islandpacket.comJuly 17, 2012 

An ailing oak tree leans over a Newport Villas condo on Tuesday.

JAY KARR THE ISLAND PACKET

A group of Hilton Head Island residents hopes its petition will save a decaying oak tree the town and others say is a hazard.

Residents of Newport Villas near Shelter Cove argue the centuries-old tree can be salvaged and are pleading with the community's board of directors and property manager not to cut it.

The town's environmental planner and a local tree service, however, say the 52-inch diameter live oak is beyond saving and could cause significant damage to neighboring villas if it topples.

"The tree is severely decayed and rotting," Newport Villas' community association manager Craig Lester said. "It's been trimmed several times and will come down sooner rather than later."

AllCare Tree Surgery recommended the oak be removed. The community's board agreed. The town authorized -- but did not require -- its removal.

"The tree has significant decay throughout its trunk, and the ends of the tree's branches are dying back," town environmental planner Rocky Browder said. "It was, in my opinion, a hazardous tree because it's next to a habitable structure. Some of the decayed branches could fall onto that structure."

The town has required Newport Villas to plant five new oaks to mitigate the tree's loss. One will be placed where the tree now stands, Browder said.

"It is magnificent," Lester said of the tree. "Unfortunately, it's decaying. Given that it is hurricane season and the gusts of wind we have, it wouldn't take much for this tree to do major damage."

Newport resident Juana Quick has asked property managers to postpone removal of the oak until an independent arborist can perform an assessment. It's unclear whether that will happen.

"The board of directors plans to move forward with removal, until they tell me otherwise," Lester said.

The tree is to be removed Thursday, according to an email Lester sent Monday to Quick.

Quick and her husband, Al, do not deny the tree is in poor health, but argue Mother Nature should have the say on whether it comes down.

"There are a lot of oaks around the island that are decayed that are still standing," she said. "And there's a good outer portion that looks structurally sound."

Neither Lester nor town officials could say how old the tree is. Quick, though, believes it's 200 years old, based on information she said she received from a tree service employee.

Should a storm topple the tree, it would fall into her villa, something the couple doubt would happen.

"No one on the island wants to see a live oak come down," she said. "It's part of the beauty of Hilton Head, and if it can be saved, why not save it?"

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