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Answers sought after tree-trimming scare at Beaufort County’s iconic Avenue of Oaks

The sight along one of Beaufort County’s most scenic thoroughfares drew onlookers Monday.

About a dozen people watched closely as contractors worked to massage a 60-foot-long section of modular home down the iconic Avenue of Oaks on St. Helena Island. A dirt path lays at the entrance to Coffin Point Plantation and is flanked on each side by grand oak trees with limbs curving over the roadway.

It was concern for the trees that drew the small crowd Monday. The fear was that the canopy would have to be cut to allow for the building to reach a lot at the end of the road where new owners plan to call home.

In the end, to the relief of many gathered, one lower branch parallel to the road had to be removed, a couple of dead limbs were cut free and the canopy did not appear affected.

The ordeal could lead to more clarity over who has ownership and authority over the oaks, some of which could be hundreds of years old.

Confusion over ownership of the road and authority over tree-trimming activities helped fuel some of the misunderstanding, said Coffin Point homeowners association president Aaron Hall. The Beaufort County Open Land Trust owns 10 feet on either side of the road, but there is a question as to whether that includes the trees.

The Open Land Trust first owned the property in 1973 and had identified Coffin Point as a priority this year, said Barbara Holmes, land protection director for the Open Land Trust.

“BCOLT is actively working with the County, the HOA and the Coffin Point residents to coordinate and communicate regarding activities that affect the Avenue of Oaks such as the situation today,” Holmes said in a statement. “Many individuals and groups are passionate about the preservation and care of this natural and historic landmark, and at the end of the day, we all want the same result.“

Building contractor Tom Jacoby said board members had approved removing two or three branches if necessary and temporarily digging out portions of the road so the building could dip under branches. Hall said the board met to talk about trees contractors thought might be problematic but a vote was never taken.

Board vice president Brad Carlan commended the job of the contractors in navigating the tunnel of trees, inching along using a remote-controlled machine. He said the property owners deserved some responsibility for the miscommunication but that the larger issues ultimately need to be resolved.

His wife, board treasurer Becky Waldrep, opposed the tree-trimming and objected to the one limb that was cut. She said cutting the trees now to allow the home through set a bad precedent for future property owners who want to do the same.

“I don’t blame them,” Hall said of the numerous residents who showed up to oppose the tree-cutting Monday. “I care about the trees; I don’t want the trees cut. But I do believe you’ve got to work out compromises.”

Stephen Fastenau covers northern Beaufort County as a reporter for The Beaufort Gazette and The Island Packet, where he has worked since 2010 and been recognized with state and national awards. He studied journalism and political science at the University of South Carolina in Columbia and lives in Beaufort.
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